Unmanned autonomous systems and the internet of things are two phrases that are bandied about a lot. But, it’s not so often that they have come together and within the marine environment in a project involving offshore industry players – albeit those who also have a foot in the defense sector.
A fleet of unmanned warriors. Image from SeeByte.
Unmanned Warrior, a military exercise, was one such event, held in the picturesque Loch Alsh, a sea inlet between the Isle of Skye and the Outer Hebrides, off Scotland. It involved 10 surface, subsea and airborne unmanned vehicles operating together on common missions.
UK-based SeeByte, which been providing software for remotely operated vehicles and autonomous underwater vehicles (ROVs and AUVs), was involved in the exercise. Joining the firm were ASV Global (Read more: Herding AUVs), Blue Bear, whose drones have been used to inspect offshore facilities, AUV manufacturer Hydroid, US AUV firm OceanServer Technology, UK-based QinetiQ, and subsea equipment and engineering firm SeaRobotics.
The exercise was jointly run by the US Navy Lab of Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division (NSWC-PCD), Defence Research and Development Canada, an agency of the Canadian Department of National Defence, and the UK’s Defence Science and Technology Lab (Dstl).
The joint missions ran through Dstl’s Maritime Autonomy Framework (MAF), realized through SeeByte’s Neptune software, an open architecture enabling autonomous multi-vehicle collaboration.
Using vehicles from Hydroid, OceanServer Technology, SeaRobotics, Blue Bear and ASV Global, the team networked the 10 unmanned systems, from three different countries, through a single command and control station. By running communications through Blue Bear’s aerial drone Blackstart, this relay link meant that the surface and subsea vehicles were able to operate at a far greater distance from the shore.
While geared towards military operations, the technologies could also pave the way for more subsea autonomous systems in the oil and gas industry, in both deep and remote waters.