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ecoSUB and Valeport have collaborated to produce ecoSUB µ5-SVP for autonomously acquiring sound velocity profiles
ecoSUB is a micro (0.5 metre long) Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV – UUV) jointly developed by Planet Ocean and the Marine Autonomous Robotics Systems (MARS) group at the National Oceanography Centre Southampton (NOCS). Part-funded by Innovate UK and the UK Defence Science & Technology Laboratory, ecoSUB is a disruptive system which aims to democratise the use of autonomous underwater technology in science, commercial and defence applications by using advanced design techniques, materials, sensors, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and manufacturing methods to produce an affordable yet capable AUV.
Just a few short years ago ecoSUB would not have been possible; the ability to manufacture some of the mechanical parts required at this scale, availability of suitable power supply chemistries, and small, low power, accurate sensors and small high capability processors all conspired to keep micro-subs firmly at the concept level.
This has all changed in the past three years as potential solutions emerged. Rapid advancements in 3D printing capability, microsensors, new battery chemistries and improvements in existing ones as well as micro-miniature, low power but high-performance processors provided some of the solutions for the design team to begin the two-year journey in August 2015. Although still extremely challenging, the Planet Ocean and MARS teams set to work to engineer a capable, cost-effective vehicle to meet the demanding specifications identified by Planet Ocean in a detailed and wide-ranging market study.
Typically, ecoSUB sensors and electronics are located within the free flooding nose cone of the vehicle. To accommodate the Valeport sensor, a new ecoSUB nose cone was required. Valeport provided pressure tolerant electronics that could be fitted within the nose cone and perform at pressures of 50 Bar or more. In addition, Valeport were asked to provide a sensor with the shortest possible path length to minimise the drag experienced by the vehicle whilst providing the required exposure for the sensor to maintain performance as well as making the electronics package as close to naturally buoyant as possible.
When diving at a steep dive angle, the ecoSUB naturally spirals keeping the footprint of the dive extremely tight, this can be enhanced further by applying full right or left rudder as part of the profile dive behaviour.
The first batch of five vehicles were produced in May 2018 and subjected to extensive sea trials with remarkable results, before being supplied to the customer. At the time of writing four vehicles are being prepared for deployment on an exercise in the northern North Sea. The subs will be piloted remotely, using the Iridium channel which with the aid of a specially designed C3 base station allows over the horizon communications with the subs in an internet denied environment. New missions or alterations to existing missions can be uploaded on the fly when vehicles are on the surface.
Working with stakeholders, particularly in energy and defence sectors there is a growing understanding that in some circumstances, information can be more valuable than data. This often means that decision-makers need to be provided with pre-processed information rather than complex data sets to allow them to make speedy yet educated decisions. An example of this is in ASW, where knowledge of the depth of the temperature inversion layer is required. By processing the sound velocity data onboard the ecoSUB and simply sending a subset of the data located around the inversion depth or even a concise report along the lines of “thermocline at 40.55 metres lat 0° 00′ 0.000 ″long 0° 00′ 0.000″” raw data are always available and stored locally for use offline as required.
Mindful of the value of the data collected, facilities have been incorporated for the erasure of the data remotely if necessary.
Valeport have also provided specially commissioned versions of their Hyperion Fluorometer system with fast time constant temperature sensor and echo sounder for use specifically on ecoSUB vehicles.
ecoSUB Robotics is currently developing a range of payload configurations and firmware modules suitable for combat hydrography and other defence applications.
ecoSUB is currently available in two variants the micro (µ) 500 metre rated and milli (m) 1 metre in length and 500 metre or 2500 metre rated.