New autonomous unmanned surface vessels
Jul 27, 2016 Dr Peter Harrop
To its manufacturer MOST (Autonomous Vessels) Ltd in the UK, USV means controlled by satellite from anywhere on the planet. AutoNaut is the answer to the age-old challenge of affordable oceanic data gathering for science, commerce and military purposes. It creates new opportunities to meet unique mission requirements in a changing world.
The staff are impressive. David Maclean is a founding executive director of MOST (AV) Ltd, A Commodore, Royal Navy (retired) who spent more than 15 years in MOD procurement roles. He has a wealth of experience in project management, and technology development.
Mike Poole is a founding executive director of MOST (AV) Ltd. He is the inventor of AutoNaut's unique wave propulsion system and holds the patent covering the background IP on the AutoNaut technology through his private company Eco-nomic Limited. Founder/ director/chairman of a number of environmental companies and sustainability initiatives, including working with the NHS on resource efficiency.
Gwyn Griffiths is a non-executive director of MOST (AV) Ltd. He is former Head of Marine Autonomous and Robotic Systems within the National Marine Facilities Division of the National Oceanographic Centre, and Professor in the School of Engineering Sciences, University of Southampton. His deep knowledge of autonomous vessels, ocean science, and fluid systems is permeating all that the company undertakes.
AutoNaut is ground-breaking; it has zero emissions, extreme endurance performance and useful payload capacity offering game-changing opportunities for high value, cost effective data collection and surveillance tasks.
The company claims that this is the first, small commercial application of a wave propulsion technology which is also applicable to much larger ships, offering great potential for fuel saving efficiency and improved stability. That implies that the earlier Liquid Robotics AUV wave propulsion of surfboard-like craft is not scalable.
AutoNaut has extreme persistence with a good payload and power capacity and a useful speed which makes her an ideal platform for marine science, oceanography and environmental data gathering as well as an independent capability for surveying and bathymetry says the company.
With a very low visual profile, a minimal radar signature, and silent operation she is also ideal for tasks in fisheries protection, piracy control, drugs and other trafficking surveillance, as well as mine counter-measures. When acting as the surface communications node, she can network underwater vessels with remote control centres.
Tasks lasting three to six months are possible, indeed wave propulsion has no limit except the needs of anti-fouling and occasional maintenance. AutoNaut can be launched either from a slipway or from a support vessel, can transit to and from an operations area covering hundreds of miles in a week, remain on station for long periods, and return when ordered for retrieval of data, if not transmitted en route, maintenance and re-launch.
The first production AutoNaut was sold to Texas A&M University and delivered in spring 2014 for research work and data gathering in the Gulf of Mexico.
MOST (AV) was soon actively engaged with other clients configuring 1m, 3.5m, 5m and larger AutoNauts for tasks involved in ocean acidification, cetacean monitoring, sub-sea pipeline monitoring, hydrography and defence work.
MOST (AV) won the competitive contract for the National Oceanographic Centre's Long Endurance Marine Unmanned Surface Vessel (LEMUSV) project in 2013. Trials included a towed hydroacoustic array as well as meteorological and oceanographic data collection.
There are now four AutoNaut sizes, ranging from 2 to 7 metres. With increased length comes greater speed and payload capacity, as well as an increase in the power generation capability for the on board sensors.
Auxiliary electric propulsion or hybrid drive is available for calm conditions and manoeuvring. A fuel cell may be fitted to provide additional power for sensors, although for most missions the Photo Voltaic panels harvesting solar energy on the deck will be sufficient.
However, there are issues with all this. The laws of the sea make the owners of all vessels liable for accidents they cause and the visual and radar stealth of these craft make it easy to hit them. That would be no problem with large craft but small craft could be endangered.