Tag Archives: submarine robots

Underwater robot maps Antactic ice

An underwater robot has enabled researchers to produce the first detailed, high-resolution 3-D maps of Antarctic sea ice. Scientists from the UK, USA and Australia say the new technology provides accurate ice thickness measurements from areas that were previously too difficult to access.

Scientists use a range of technologies and techniques to measure sea ice thickness. Satellite observations can measure large-scale thickness from space, but interpreting the data accurately can be difficult due to snow cover on the ice. Measurements made on the sea ice by drilling holes, together with visual observations from ships are critical for building a more complete picture, but difficulties in getting access to thicker areas of sea ice leaves gaps in the data. Now, with the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) known as SeaBED, scientists have a new tool to fill this gap.

SeaBED was fitted with an upward-looking sonar in order to measure and map the underside of sea ice floes. The AUV operated at a depth of 20 to 30 meters and was driven in back and forth. These lines of data were merged to form high-resolution 3D bathymetric surveys of the underside of the ice.

The data from SeaBED, combined with airborne measurements of sea-ice surface elevation, ice coring surveys, and satellite observations, vastly improves scientists’ estimates of ice thickness and total sea ice volume.

“The AUV missions have given us a real insight into the nature of Antarctic sea ice – like looking through a microscope. We can now measure ice in far greater detail and were excited to measure ice up to 17 meters thick,” says co-author Jeremy Wilkinson from British Antarctic Survey.

The research was carried out by scientists at the Institute of Antarctic and Marine Science (Australia), Antarctic Climate and Ecosystem Cooperative Research Centre (Australia), Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (USA) and British Antarctic Survey (UK).

Thick and deformed Antarctic sea ice mapped with autonomous underwater vehicles by G. Williams, T. Maksym, J. Wilkinson, C. Kunz, C. Murphy, P. Kimball, H. Singh is published in Nature Geoscience on 24 November 2014.

The AUV captured extensive deformation, with the underside revealing large ‘rubble fields’ of sea ice, suggesting repeated, multi-directional collisions between ice floes through the winter period. This is in contrast to what scientists previously understood from the Arctic, where larger sections of sea ice, under constant pressure, produce longer linear ‘ridge’ features.

Google adds more Virtual Dives to Underwater Street View

With the help of the Catlin Seaview Survey, Google has added more underwater locations to its “Street View“.

Google put the first marine images up in September 2012, with dives in Australia, the Philippines and Hawaii. Now it covers 16 more countries, including the Galapagos, Monaco, Bermuda and Mexico. It really is a fantastic way to gauge potential dive sites before visiting a country. And it isn’t just for fun. The seaview survey will make ocean change plainly visible for all to see.

For shallow reef surveying – from 0 to 30 m – marine biologists use cameras attached to underwater scooters. Three 360o cameras take pictures from different angles to produce a panoramic seascape. For each image captured, a geo-location and camera direction is also recorded, meaning it’s possible to retake the photograph at a later date from the exact same camera position as the original.

Underwater camera used to make Google Underwater Street View
Mapping the Ocean Floor

Marine creatures like manta rays and turtles apparently find it particularly fascinating. The Catlin Seaview team often catch them checking out their own reflection in the wide-angle camera-lens-housing ports.

An underwater tablet has been developed especially for the project, which can connect to the internet and communicate live with the world from underwater.

For dives deeper than 30 m, the survey team sends down under underwater robots. They use data loggers to track changes in water temperature and light level.

The new locations you can now view on Google include Cozumel’s Santa Rosa Wall and Columbia Deep; Monaco’s Larvotto Marine Reserve and Roche Saint Nicholas (featuring the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco); the Cancun Underwater Museum and whale sharks at Isla Contoy in Mexico

Emily’s Pinnacles, Bermuda

Further Reading
Google Underwater Street View
Catlin Seaview Survey
Catlin Global Reef Record

Underwater Robot Successfully Tested at Sea

The Trident underwater robot has been able to find and retrieve independently an object in an unknown seabed facing the adverse conditions presented by the open ocean.

The I-AUV (autonomous underwater vehicle for intervention) has been successfully tested in the Port of Sóller, Mallorca.

Designed for multipurpose submarine intervention tasks like underwater archaeology, oceanography and offshore industries, the Trident I-AUV goes beyond present-day methods typically based on remote control or single-purpose systems. The robot has multitasking skills and autonomous manipulation for operations in unknown marine spaces.

According to Pedro J. Sanz, professor of Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence at the Universitat Jaume I, “Trident is based on a multipurpose system that incorporates a two-stage strategy: in the first stage, the system is released into water. It builds a visual map of the seabed by scanning the area of interest where the goal of the intervention is. After this, the system rises to the surface and has to be told, before launching it back into the water system, which is the goal of the intervention and what do we want to do with it. In a second stage, the operation is executed”.

The robust and efficient control algorithms have shown that Trident I-AUV is able to overcome difficulties regardless of the adverse conditions of seabed.

The purpose of the project was originally based on exploring ways to solve the generic problem of “search and recovery” on the seabed in an autonomous way. In particular, the recovery of aircrafts black boxes, motivated, among other reasons, by the news of the tragic disappearance in the Atlantic Ocean of the Air France plane that made the Rio-Paris route in June 2009.

Further Reading:

Marine Robots detect Endangered Whales

Two submarine robots equipped with instruments designed to “listen” for the calls of baleen whales have detected nine endangered North Atlantic right whales in the Gulf of Maine.

The project employed ocean-going robots called gliders equipped with a digital acoustic monitoring (DMON) instrument and specialised software allowing the vehicle to detect and classify calls from four species of baleen whales – sei, fin, humpback and right whales. The gliders’s real-time communication capabilities alerted scientists to the presence of whales in the research area, in the first successful use of technology to report detections of several species of baleen whales from autonomous vehicles.

Using the gliders’s reconnaissance data and continued real-time updates, the science team was able to locate whales in just a few hours of searching. “We found our first right whale on the first day that we were surveying in decent weather conditions because the gliders were up there doing the leg work for us, to tell us where the animals were in real time,” says Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) scientist Mark Baumgartner.

The innovative whale detection system provides conservation managers with a cost-effective alternative to ship- or plane-based means of identifying the presence of whales, and gives whale ecologists new tools for understanding large animals that spend most of their lives out of human eyesight below the sea surface.

Whale researchers want to learn what draws whales to this part of the ocean during the late fall and winter. However, high winds and rough seas typical of that time of year make studying the animals very difficult.

“This presents a huge knowledge gap,” says Baumgartner.

The labor-intensive work of surveying for whales, overseen by NOAA, is usually done by human observers on ships or airplanes, and is limited by the conditions at sea.

“We’ve been doing visual based surveys for a long time – either from a plane or a boat. They have a lot of value, but they are limited, especially at certain times of the year,” says Sofie Van Parijs, leader of the Passive Acoustic Research Group at NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC). “These gliders provide a great complement to this system. Knowing where right whales are helps you manage interactions between an endangered species and the human activities that impact those species.”

Gliders – approximately six-foot-long, torpedo-shaped autonomous vehicles with short wings – have been in use by oceanographers for about a decade. They move up, down, and laterally in a sawtooth pattern through the water by changing their buoyancy and using their wings to provide lift. Battery powered and exceptionally quiet in the water, the gliders are equipped with an underwater microphone on the underside of the vehicle near its wings and an iridium satellite antenna on the tail section. The vehicle surfaces every few hours to get a GPS position and transmit data to shore-side computers.

The DMON – a circuit board and battery about the size of an iPhone – sits inside the glider recording audio and generating spectrograms, a form of the audio that facilitates complex sound analysis. From the spectrogram, Baumgartner’s software generates a “pitch track,” a visual representation of a whale call, and estimates which species of whale made the call based on characteristics of the pitch track. Tallies of each species’ detected calls and even a small subset of detected pitch tracks can be transmitted to shore by the vehicle. “Each pitch track takes less than 100 bytes, whereas transmitting just one of those calls as an audio clip would take about 8000 bytes of data,” says Baumgartner. This makes the system efficient and economical. And, adds Baumgartner, it’s also really flexible. It is easy to update the software to include a larger repertoire of whale calls into the software’s “call library.”

The researchers reported the presence of the whales to NOAA, the agency responsible for enforcing the Marine Mammal Protection Act. NOAA put in place a “dynamic management area”, asking mariners to voluntarily slow their vessel speed to avoid striking the animals.

Further Reading:
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute

Submarine robots learn teamwork

Submarine robots will soon work together as a team.

Studying the deep ocean floor is cumbersome, expensive and dangerous. The majority of exploration efforts have to employ an autonomous unmanned vehicle (AUV), which works without control cables. But many AUVs are specialised, they cannot travel far alone and they can only provide a narrow range of data. Moreover, there are few AUVs and the unexplored kilometres of ocean are many. The work of one European project, however, has the potential to dramatically increase the range and functionality of the world’s AUV fleet using networking technologies and software.

There are many advantages. For a start, multiple AUVs can map a larger area in one sweep, performing a sort of synchronised swimming thanks to some very clever software.

What is more, the formation benefits from the sum of its sensing equipment, making the AUVs potentially much more versatile and capable of getting both a greater variety of data at a higher granularity in one pass.

Coordinating multiple AUVs requires sophisticated software. Seawater is a difficult medium for linking up submarine robots and bandwidth is very limited, which affects the quality and range of the signal – measured in the hundreds of metres.

“So we did not work with individual vehicles, we sought to create a ‘GREX’ box that incorporates communications… tied into the vehicle controls. This can be simply added to existing vehicles, dramatically increasing their functionality,” notes Jarowinsky, of MC Marketing Consulting, a partner of the GREX project.

There is high demand for this kind of functionality and the number of potential applications is enormous, from studying hydrothermal vents and their rich, alien ecosystems to making new discoveries in biology, geology, magnetism and any number of other studies.

The most advanced “alien” life form so far encountered by humanity – a species using chemosynthesis, an entirely new metabolic process to create energy, cells and life – was found by Professor Colleen Cavanaugh at a hydrothermal vent in the ocean deep just 30 years ago.

“We focused on scientific applications in the GREX project. We were interested in fish data for fisheries research, a very important area. We aimed at marine mapping and also the study of hydrothermal vents,” Jarowinsky reveals.

Further Reading:
ICT Results