Shore Launched Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Demonstration Leading Towards Shipless Deepwater Exploration of the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone

PI: Hartsfield, J. Carl (Lead PI role was transferred from Carl Kaiser) (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
Co-PI(s): Jakuba, Michael (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution) : Purcell, Michael (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
Start Year: 2019 | Duration: 4 years
Partners: National Science Foundation, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Project Abstract:

The U.S. exclusive economic zone comprises more than 3.4 million square nautical miles. At present, only 41% of these waters are mapped at a level of one sounding per 100 meters (m) or more. The high cost of crewed ships attaches significant cost to exploration using current methods. Moreover, mapping is only one dimension of exploration. Significant additional data are required to accurately evaluate potential contributions to the blue economy.

In deep water, even the most sophisticated surface vessel sonar systems are quite limited in the mapping resolution they can deliver. By contrast, Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) are close to the seafloor and hence able to obtain extremely high-resolution data from relatively small vehicles even in deep water. Moreover, AUVs can simultaneously collect chemical data and even images leading to more complete exploration in a single visit. Historically, AUVs have been operated from, and often closely attended by, crewed surface vessels, leading to per-unit area mapping cost orders of magnitude higher than crewed vessels alone. However, recent advances in AUVs and in multi-vehicle collaboration will allow us to conduct large-scale shore-launched AUV surveys with small, inexpensive Autonomous Surface Vessels (ASV) replacing manned vessels and significantly reducing costs.

The project will use the REMUS 600 AUV, equipped with multi‐beam bathymetric sonar to perform the offshore mapping tasks and include a demonstration to prove the capability to conduct a swim-out rendezvous with the ASV, acquire tracking, power up the survey suite, conduct a mission while being monitored from shore, power down the survey suite. The methodology being developed will be demonstrated on the REMUS 600 as this vehicle provides an adaptable vehicle infrastructure to implement the required low power ultra-short baseline navigation system and high energy batteries. The modular nature of the REMUS 600 allows it to simply be elongated to add more energy between the tail and nose. For future work, the REMUS 600 can also be modified to reach depths of 3000 m and carry a wide variety of payloads. If future work requires 6000 m, back fit is possible to the REMUS 6000 vehicle. The REMUS 600 will be equipped with an interferometric swath bathymetry sonar for bottom mapping as well as synoptic sensors for water temperature, conductivity and turbidity measurements. Much of the proposed AUV and ASV behavior will be efficiently developed on the bench using software simulators. Hardware integration and initial testing will take place in the lab environment.

Integrated system (AUV and ASV) testing will take place in local waters of Buzzards Bay. The local tests are an efficient method of supporting rapid feedback testing and verification associated with the needed swim out rendezvous’ behaviors, platform survivability behaviors and telepresence control. These local Buzzards Bay tests will be designed so that they scale up to the larger demonstration. The integration and developmental tasks will converge into a final demonstration of a shore launched AUV performing bottom surveys below 200 m depth. The demonstration will entail the REMUS 600 being launched from Woods Hole, transiting to the North East Canyon shelf break region (190 kilometers), performing a significant bathymetric survey between 200 m and 600 m of depth, then returning, and transiting back to Woods Hole. While on survey tasks, the AUV will cooperatively work with the ASV. The shelf break region identified for surveying is within the geographic footprint of the Ocean Observatory Initiative–Coastal Pioneer Array. The exact timing of the final demonstration will be planned to coincide with Ocean Observatory Initiative‐supported research cruise activities which would allow for a recovery vessel in proximity if needed. Dockside integrations and local sea testing will occur throughout 2022 to spiral develop both software and hardware pieces, building confidence for the uncrewed offshore run, shelf break survey, and voyage home. The final demonstration will take place during Summer 2023.

BAA: N00014-18-S-B007
BAA Topic: Autonomous mapping