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The beginning of the USEA Access-AUV project

Written by:

Per Norvald Boge.

Published at: useaoceandata.com

Date: 1.01.22

The USEA Access-AUV project, initiated in 2019, will make it possible to operate AUVs from unmanned vessels. This is how it works and how it all started.

- We need a smarter way to map the ocean. Today’s underwater robotics powered by batteries has limited capacity and is normally operated from conventional ships. They are limited by weather conditions and operations can pose great risks for crew members. We want to take the use of underwater robots even one step further.

This is how Per Norvald Boge, Operations Manager at uSEA Ocean Data, describes the underlying motivation of the USEA Access-AUV project. Luckily others saw the same problem and believed in the solution we envisaged. The project received support by the Research Council of Norway and USEA established a partnership with Blue Logic and NTNU to help develop the solution that could allow autonomous underwater docking of AUVs to an actively controlled towed docking platform.

The early support was vital in realising the primary objective of the ACCESS-AUV project - to demonstrate the feasibility of a new type of active towed docking station with power and data transfer capabilities that will enable the operation of AUVs from unmanned vessels in extended weather and sea state conditions.

How it works

Underwater robots are steadily becoming the tool of excellence in ocean survey and inspection tasks. When operating, the AUVs need a ship for deployment, support or for re-location beyond their operational range. The USEA concept is designed to allow these support functions to be performed by a more suitably sized unmanned service vehicle (USV) instead of the larger support vessel.

The solution includes a USV that in combination with the specialized uLARS system will enable operation even in rough sea wave conditions as typically can be experienced in the North Sea. USV operation over traditional ship operation is significantly reducing carbon footprint and HSE (health, safety and environment) risk for the people that would normally be working on the ship.

Trusted partners spurs further innovation

The technology is enabling power transfer for charging of AUV batteries with pin-less connectors as well as high speed data transfer connection between the active towed docking station and the AUV. This means that the unmanned vessel will be able to transfer data ongoingly through the mapping operation.

The technology has been developed in collaboration with EIVA and other suppliers. The project partner NTNU has allowed use and modifications of one of their AUVs and given the project an opportunity to demonstrate the entire solution from their research vessel Gunnerus.

- As the project comes to an end it has successfully demonstrated what it set out to do. The lessons learned during the process have already resulted in improvements and suggestions for how to make the next version better. All in all, the best possible outcome of a technology development project. We have a working prototype and a next version already improved and soon ready to be tested, says Norvald Boge.