View from the Top: Dan Hook, ASV

By Greg Trauthwein

Earlier this year MTR met with Dan Hook, Managing Director of ASV, an innovator in the delivery of next-gen, high-tech autonomous vehicles. Hook discussed how ASV has evolved from a two-person start-up to a sector leader.

For our readers not familiar with ASV, please provide a brief overview of your company.
ASV is a highly motivated team of people designing, building and operating Autonomous Surface Vehicles and their control systems. The company has approximately 70 employees with facilities in the UK and US. ASV provides systems to a wide number of users around the world in defense, offshore energy and oceanographic applications. As well as providing complete integrated systems including platforms, payloads and control equipment we also provide our control software and hardware to other boat manufacturers and operators for integration with their vessels.
ASV has grown from two to 70 employees. What has been the primary driver(s) for this growth?
From the very outset of ASV we took the strategic decision to develop systems for defense, offshore energy, hydrographic survey and science. This approach was ambitious and hard work but has paid off as we have seen all of these markets grow in terms of unmanned vehicle application. We have delivered good equipment to some high level customers who came back for more and this has allowed us to grow the team in terms of design, production and support staff.
Thomas Chance, who is well-known in subsea circles, has had a hand in the development of ASV. Put in perspective his contribution.
Thomas Chance is our Chairman and very much involved with the business in terms of strategy and financial planning. The experience that Thomas gained by introducing AUVs to commercial operations is really helping us to do the same with ASVs.
What is in the works at ASV that our readers will look forward to in 2016 and beyond?
The team worked really hard in 2015 to develop and test some new platforms and technical capabilities that will be launched in 2016. We will be launching our C-Worker 5 vehicle at Oceanology International which is a commercial grade vehicle designed specifically for the Hydrographic Survey market. The 5 meter long vessel can run with a full survey spread in parallel with a conventional survey vessel for days on end offering huge operational efficiency benefits. We will be offering a lease model for these systems with four vessels in the lease pool in the spring with more to follow. We will also be launching our larger C-Worker 7. This diesel electric ‘work class’ ASV is constructed with redundant systems and ideal for offshore energy applications.
The large moon pool (2.5m long, 1m wide) can be equipped with a wide range of payload frames including USBL, winches, sonars and even an inspection ROV system. The last exciting development that I will mention here is the launch of some signifi cant enhancements to our control software and hardware system “ASView.”
With the support of some UK Government innovation grants (Innovate UK) and our own internal investment we have been developing an over the horizon satellite communications capability. This will be complete with new operator assistance tools including COLREG compliant collision avoidance and multi-sensor fusion to give a navigational picture for safe operation.
Looking at “Autonomy” as a whole in the maritime sector, can you put in perspective for us how (and if) attitudes, acceptance, and adoption of autonomous vehicles has evolved over the past few years.
At ASV we see a very varied use and understanding of the words ‘autonomy’ and ‘unmanned’. Different customers in different markets can mean very different things when talking about levels of autonomy and remote supervision. We have certainly seen a very encouraging movement in acceptance and adoption of unmanned supervised systems where a trained operator is ‘in the loop’ of control. How frequently the operator directly interacts with control inputs and the bandwidth available for two way data exchange between the system and operator varies considerably between applications and operational scenarios. A trend over the last few years and certainly one we expect to continue to see over the next few years is that increasing levels of autonomy will allow for the safe reduction in frequency of interaction and data exchange or bandwidth requirements. However we do see that for nearly all real-world applications a human will remain in the loop for some time to come, it may just be that they are able to operate multiple vehicles or spend more time focusing on the data and results generated by the system.
Looking back, from the time you started your career to today: What technology do you attribute with having the greatest influence on the ability to explore and work underneath the water more efficiently and effectively, and why?
We have certainly seen huge leaps forward in battery technology, inertial reference units, USBL accuracy and sonar performance all allowing for more accurate and efficient operations. I think for me though the ‘technology’ making the biggest difference is the internet, allowing people to more rapidly share ideas and data to accelerate the development and adoption of other technologies. The international sales reach the internet provides allows people to sell more equipment which has an impact on reducing the prices, allowing more people access to the technology for exploration and work. It is a positive cycle!
When you look at your industry as a whole, and looking at the myriad of serious issues that we face as citizens of this planet, what do you see as the burning issues of the day that will put the work that you do in the world’s oceans front and center for the next generation?
I think there are three issues here that I would like to talk about, reducing costs, increasing safety and enhancing the amount and accuracy of information we have about the oceans. With the current low oil price and commercial challenges of offshore renewable energy.
I think there is a huge opportunity for ASVs to offer cost effective means of undertaking both support to installation and through life inspection work. We have already proven in several different applications that the adoption of ASV technology can have a positive impact on the ‘bottom line’ and I hope that the work we are doing will allow for cost reductions of generating energy offshore.
Safety is a high priority in everybody’s mind, especially those that have had the chance to work offshore in challenging conditions. There is no doubt that by adopting unmanned vehicles we can put operators and offshore professionals in safe environments and allow them to remotely operate platforms in the extreme temperatures and sea states that have unfortunately claimed so many lives before. Unmanned technology certainly provides the opportunity for the current and next generation to have an even safer working life.
It is often repeated that we know more about the Moon than we do our Oceans and rather than Planet Earth it should really be called Planet Ocean or Planet Water seeing as over 70 percent of the surface is water! I am sure all of the readers would agree that we need more data from the Oceans but with the increasing costs of sending ships to sea we need to look towards other technologies and methods. Unmanned systems (including satellites) offer a huge potential in this area, they can operate for long periods of time gathering data for comparatively low costs. As they become more widely adopted they will reduce in cost and become even more widely used, another positive cycle!
If you had a crystal ball and could envision how this industry will look and operate in the year 2025, what would you see?
I think we will see more and more data in real time for everything we are doing offshore. This will allow for decisions to be made more quickly and effectively and for an increase in safety and reliability. I predict we will see more remote data and remote operations centers onshore where professionals will be on hand to work across a number of drill sites, or marine observatories rather than offshore at just one at a time.
Every business, every industry has its challenges. What do you consider to be the greatest challenge to your business today, and how are you investing to overcome that challenge.
Unmanned systems offer advantages in terms of cost savings and increased safety. One of the biggest challenges faced by the unmanned platforms industry is that their systems don’t have personnel onboard for minor repairs yet have to operate at equivalent or higher levels of reliability than conventional vessels. We have been investing heavily in additional levels of redundancy, fault tolerant operations and health monitoring and actually now see opportunities to increase reliability because there are no people onboard! We have invested in our trials team and facilities to allow for more testing in different environments. This has included a temperature controlled test tank and new offshore workboat for trials. We are investing in working with local universities with expertise in accelerated environmental testing and statistical analysis of fault logging and reliability optimization. We have seen great results already and take this industry challenge seriously.

Dan Hook’s Career Path
I completed a Masters of Engineering in Ship Science and Naval Architecture at the University of Southampton. The University had strong links with what was then the Southampton Oceanography Centre and is now the National Oceanography Centre. It was there that they developed the Autosub series of AUVs and this sparked my interest in unmanned systems. After graduating I worked for approximately ten years in the development and testing of powerboat hull forms, system design and naval architecture consultancy whilst working on ASVs in the evenings and weekends. During this time I became a Chartered Engineer and rose to become Technical Director at a company called Seaspeed. Eventually in 2010 I had the opportunity to focus on ASV full time as the Managing Director and quickly recruited an excellent team to take it forwards. I have thoroughly enjoyed my career so far and found that working in the area of unmanned marine systems exposes you to a fascinating blend of technologies, people and places and would strongly encourage any student readers to choose it as a career.
(As published in the March 2016 edition of Marine Technology Reporter:
The February 2024 edition of Marine Technology Reporter is focused on Oceanographic topics and technologies.
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