Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Tech File: Hybrid AUV/ROV

By Durval Tavares

How a multi-mission vehicle can transform underwater exploration and inspection

On their own, autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) and remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) possess unique capabilities for users across multiple industries. Yet, while both are unmanned underwater vehicles, they feature significant differences in their design, function and use. 
AUVs operate autonomously; once programmed, they can move independently, carrying out missions for hours, or in some instances, days. While being untethered enables AUVs to have a greater operational radius, they can only maneuver in certain directions and change depths. ROVs, on the other hand, are tethered to human operators, who pilot or “fly” the vehicle using a computer console, either on shore or on a boat or ship. In other words, they always need a guiding hand, leading to increased cost in manpower. Despite this, ROVs are traditionally more maneuverable than AUVs, considering human pilots still outperform robots in field conditions. 
Enter the Hybrid AUV/ROV
The evolving demand for underwater exploration and inspection missions requires a multi-mission vehicle that offers users both automation and control. The solution that best addresses these needs is a hybrid AUV/ROV, an underwater vehicle that is changing the way underwater surveys are performed. For broad range searches, the hybrid can be easily programmed to conduct grid or linear searches in AUV mode. For more thorough analysis of conditions, operators can attach the tether and maneuver the ROV to capture detailed images and data readings. 
The impact of hybrid capabilities for multi-mission purposes is apparent across a wide range of industries, including military/defense, security, infrastructure, energy and aquaculture. In the infrastructure industry, for example, these vehicles are prime for bridge and dam inspections as they can conduct a wide mapping of bridge and dam structures in AUV mode and then perform more in-depth inspections upon transitioning to ROV mode. Hybrid AUVs/ROVs can also assist the navies of the world in addressing increased underwater threats, which often occur in hazardous environments that are difficult and dangerous for divers themselves to explore. Hybrid AUVs/ROVs can augment and even replace divers in situations, including explosive ordinance disposal (EOD), mine countermeasures (MCM), port security and intelligence, and surveillance and reconnaissance (ISP), as they are quick and easy to launch and are intuitively piloted. 
Hybrids can also remove potential perils for divers when it comes to the policing, surveillance and security of oceanic and inland waterways, as they safely and economically inspect, surveil and monitor what lies beneath the ocean’s surface. 
Hybrid and Connectivity: Going Beyond the Dive
While hybrid AUVs/ROVs prove more than capable of exploring the depths of the world’s bodies of water, technological advancements like cloud computing promote greater interactivity and connectivity during missions both below and above the sea. Previously, long-term storage, analysis and report generation were left up to end users. Now, the cloud, when properly accessed and utilized by underwater vehicles, has become the future of data collection and storage. For example, where it used to take operators three hours to conduct an underwater inspection, and analysts another three months to generate a report, the cloud now provides easy access to data, which can be properly archived, managed and viewed in-action during missions. In addition, users don’t have to be on-site to monitor missions—cloud connectivity brings all crucial data points together in a convenient and easy way, in real-time. 
With oceans covering 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, it remains largely unexplored from a subsea perspective, making research and data collection challenging. Add the burden of needing two separate types of vehicles—and essentially two separate crews—for different exploration and inspection missions, and you’re presented with a significant barrier to both cost and efficiency. With the hybrid AUV/ROV, you not only have a digital framework for autonomy, but also the ability to quickly take control. It is a multi-mission vehicle that is poised to be a game-changer for the underwater robotics industry.
The Author
Durval Tavares is CEO, Aquabotix
(As published in the October 2017 edition of Marine Technology Reporter)
The February 2022 eMag edition of Marine Technology Reporter looks inside the world of oceanography.
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