The Edge of True Autonomy

OPENSEA Edge is a robot-agnostic edge processing system for vehicle-based autonomy, perception, and communications based on the open architecture of OPENSEA.

Photo credit: Greensea

Greensea Systems, Inc. (Greensea) develops and maintains OPENSEA, the open architecture software platform for the marine robotics industry. OPENSEA Edge combines the power of OPENSEA with a edge computing package consisting of dual NVIDIA processors to provide an easy solution for system integrators or vehicle developers moving towards full subsea and untethered autonomy. OPENSEA Edge presents the tried-and-true navigation, vehicle control, and autonomy solutions of OPENSEA with new OPENSEA technologies for objective-based autonomy, perception system integration, and low-bandwidth communications as a platform solution that can port to any vehicle system and support a wide range of applications. The OPENSEA Edge system is based on two NVIDIA edge processors and a Gigabit Ethernet network architecture while providing subsea connector interfaces for the robot, video sensors, sonar sensors, navigation sensors, and acoustic communications.

OPENSEA Edge is designed to assist manufacturers and integrators address the autonomy requirements of the next generation of ocean robots easily and cost effectively while benefiting from the ever-expanding network of OPENSEA users.

Edge computing places computational processes, the processing and consumption of data, as near to the source of the data as possible. In the context of ocean robots, it places the software responsible for processing and acting on sensor data on the robot itself versus with the operator. For many applications this is nothing new, but as Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) find relevance in a world requiring persistence, residency, and long-range standoff deployments, ROV architecture has to abandon the “topside” architectures in favor of edge processing. ROVs have to develop brains.

With edge computing on the ROV, the architecture is not burdened with providing for high-bandwidth communications between the operator and robot. Instead of raw video, sonar, sensor data, and command and control signals moving up and down a tether, situational awareness and work instructions can move instead. This allows us to consider using low-bandwidth and high-latency links, like acoustic and satellite links instead of fiber optic and Ethernet tethers.

Of course, with edge processing our ROVs come alive. Data processing, navigation, and control on the vehicle allow for decision making on the edge as well. This paves the way for redundancy, failure mitigation, and the platform required to integrate new levels of autonomy. With a modular and vehicle-agnostic autonomy solution, a “brain in a box”, addressing future requirements for residency, uncrewed operations, and extended reach is within reach of any manufacturer, service provider, or system integrator.

Photo credit: Greensea

The Human Connection

Perhaps one of the greatest blockages to realizing a long-range standoff, over-the-horizon, uncrewed, or resident solution for ROVs is the human connection. How do we maintain a meaningful data link in real offshore operations? The solution thus far has been robust and high-bandwidth data links, more or less a really long tether to remote operators. This infrastructure is likely not scalable to levels that will bring about widespread and practical adoption of this capability. To allow for viable autonomous “ROV” operations, we need to provide solutions that will work over very low-bandwidth and very high-latency communications links – 100bps acoustic communications and 100kbps satellite links.

Through funding from the US Department of Defense, Greensea has developed a long-range standoff solution for remote systems called Safe C2 that is protocol agnostic and designed for adhoc and multimode networks. Safe C2 allows for seafloor to over-the-horizon communications. More than just a communications handler, Safe C2 ensures the task an operator is conducting with a remote system is successful and solves the greater problem of removing ROV crew from the sea.

Safe C2 integrates tightly to the autonomy system on the edge and the operator, or network of operators, at the shore side to understand the tasking of the ROV. Using compression, prioritization, and scaling algorithms, Safe C2 provides the data needed by the operator to make decisions and the data needed by the ROV to accomplish tasks successfully. With tight integration to the OPENSEA perception system, operators are provided situational awareness required to effectively accomplish critical tasks in complex environments.

Safe C2 also provides integration to a vessel control system, assisting the operator of uncrewed vessels or USVs deploying ROVs, as well as the Launch and Recovery System (LARS) and Tether Management System (TMS). Operating an ROV from a long distance is only part of the problem. For effective uncrewed concepts of the future, we have to compensate for all of the other tasks conducted by crews during ROV operations. Safe C2 maintains the critical human connection required for over-the-horizon ROV operations and is a critical component of OPENSEA Edge.

Photo credit: Greensea

Autonomy and Perception

Greensea is pioneering autonomy on ROVs for operator-assist, supervised, and independent operations. Beginning with critical defense applications for Mine Countermeasure (MCM) and Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) as well as ship husbandry applications, Greensea is extending the flexible OPENSEA autonomy engine into commercial applications for Inspection, Maintenance, and Repair as well as windfarm support. Greensea’s flexible objective-based autonomy engine allows the rapid creation of autonomous behaviors with verification and validation in a simulation environment. The open architecture of OPENSEA also allows seamless collaboration and integration with existing autonomous engines.

Perception is a critical building block for ROV autonomy. A radical step from their lawn-mowing survey AUV cousins, ROVs have to interact with their environment and conduct autonomously in and around structures and objects of interest. The autonomy engines of ROVs integrate to the video, sonar, and laser imaging systems just as their human operators have done for decades in traditional operations to “see” their environment and build an understanding of their surroundings.

OPENSEA Edge provides the physical connection of perception sensors and the OPENSEA environment provides for the integration of perception data as well as the distribution of perception data to other processing applications. Using a dual NVIDIA processor solution with robust GPUs, a Gigabit Ethernet backbone, and application space for third-party processing software, OPENSEA Edge is an ideal ready-made solution for edge computing on ROVs. Perception data integrates to the autonomy engine through the OPENSEA map, a feature-based situational awareness software layer.

It is important to note however, OPENSEA enables perception by integrating it into the autonomy system. Greensea is expert in ROV control and autonomy. Our friends are expert in perception. OPENSEA Edge delivers a complete solution through collaboration. This is open architecture at its best!

Silos and kingdoms of proprietary IP and creativity cripple industries and the subsea industry is not immune to that. Open architecture fosters collaboration. Open architecture done right, fosters collaboration with IP retention and protection. OPENSEA is open architecture done right and OPENSEA Edge delivers this.

Photo credit: Greensea

For sixteen years, Greensea has pioneered open architecture in the ocean robotics industry. OPENSEA is the most widely used commercial open architecture solution in the market and it easily integrates and supports all of the other open architecture platforms. With OPENSEA, developers and integrators can reach over silos and leverage the advancements made throughout the industry to achieve power capabilities.

Among others, Greensea has collaborated recently with two technology leaders in the maritime industry: SeeByte and Blue Ring Imaging. SeeByte, based in the UK with a sister company in the US, is a pioneer in software for autonomous marine systems. SeeByte is the world leader in autonomy for collaborative and mission-centric operations involving multiple robots. Greensea is collaborating with SeeByte by providing native integration between OPENSEA and SeeByte’s Neptune application. This integration leap-frogs the wait for an industry-wide “standard” for autonomy and provides an immediate solution for commercial platform and battlespace autonomy. Meanwhile, through a collaboration with SeeByte’s sister company, SeeByte Inc., in the United States, Greensea is providing Automatic Target Recognition (ATR) using video and imaging sonar in OPENSEA Edge. Greensea and SeeByte Inc. are working together to expand the ML library of the ATR solution and have recently delivered several systems to the US Navy for MCM and EOD operations.

Blue Ring Imaging is pioneering the use of Virtual Reality (VR) in ROV operations for an augmented user experience. Greensea and Blue Ring are collaborating through an integration into OPENSEA and are demonstrating this technology to several defense customers. Perhaps no other technology to date has improved the human experience of working with ROVs like Blue Ring’s VR system. OPENSEA Edge will provide a native interface to Blue Ring’s platform.

Built to be Flexible

OPENSEA Edge has been built on the dependable foundation of Greensea’s core OPENSEA platform. OPENSEA is the standard in open architecture operating systems for ocean robotics, and is installed on nearly 3,000 marine vehicles and systems around the world. OPENSEA provides a flexible and scalable base that can be used to advance robotics, by providing a common platform that can be used to connect the building blocks needed for a marine robot (inertial navigation, vehicle command and control, sonar processing, vehicle perception and autonomy). Using provided application programming interfaces (APIs) and interface control documents (ICDs), customers and partners can develop software that works with OPENSEA, and expand their systems' capabilities.

Thanks to the unique way Greensea manages intellectual property (IP) with industry partners, the distributed framework of OPENSEA allows containment of IP, so that partners can clearly isolate and protect their developments. The OPENSEA Software Development Kit (SDK) provides all the tools developers need to implement and adopt OPENSEA within their own systems.

The Future

The future of ocean robotics will require vehicles to be more flexible, upgradable, and modular. Only Greensea is uniquely positioned to provide this flexibility, as ROV operators and builders can now start to re-envision their current and future vehicles’ ability to accomplish so much more through the new world of capabilities that OPENSEA Edge offers.

OPENSEA Edge offers this new way to process data onboard the vehicle which we are already starting to see used with sonar and video for target recognition. Given the flexibility of hardware, software, and ATR libraries that OPENSEA Edge provides, we now have increased perception and vehicle autonomy that could benefit all sectors of the marine industry, from search & rescue and offshore energy, to scientific research and ship husbandry.

Adding a whole new meaning to “Anything is possible on OPENSEA!”

December 2022