The Ocean Robot Revolution: Reviewing the Latest in Marine Autonomy Tech
Modern-day ocean technologies are constantly advancing. The current market is filled with vehicles for every depth, ocean condition, and application, offering varying specifications and customizations for any user’s need. Here, we’ll take a quick look at a few of the most recently developed options made by some of the top companies producing this cutting edge tech.
By Laurel M. Gallaudet
A Quadroin AUV shown at the surface with itsImages by Submaris/EvoLogics.
Between AUVs, UUVs, and ROVs, most companies on the market today develop vehicles made to collect data and monitor conditions for a range of different observational and operational needs. The Quadroin is one such vehicle, an AUV originally developed in 2021 by EvoLogics in collaboration with the Helmholtz Association for their Modular Observation Solutions for Earth Systems (MOSES), an observational system designed for the investigation of geophysical interactions between short-term events and long-term trends including heat waves, hydrological extremes, ocean eddies and permafrost thaw. The newest version of the AUV has been updated with new hardware and an updated propulsion system. In addition to Sea and Sun sensors for measuring temperature, pressure, oxygen, conductivity and fluorescence, the Quadroin now carries a side-scan sonar, an underwater camera, and a DVL unit in its sensor payload. Setting it apart from many other observational vehicles, the Quadroin utilizes the unique locomotive design of a penguin-shaped body to minimize energy consumption and drag and increase speed with bionic technology and is capable of operating in solo or swarm formations, depending upon the applications.
Another exceptional unmanned vehicle offering the possibility for collaborative operation is the medium-class REMUS 620, a UUV produced by HII with improved endurance and customizability. The REMUS 620 has a battery life of up to 110 hours and a range of 275 nautical miles. This versatile vehicle offers rapid mission reconfiguration with its open-architecture modularity. It can also be deployed from various platforms, including submarines, manned and unmanned boats, ships, and helicopters.
With the new Odyssey Mission Management Software, the UUV can even be used to launch and operate other unmanned vehicles and payloads, offering users the highest levels of adaptability and variability in application and usage. The REMUS 620 can be customized with a wide range of payloads alongside CT and depth sensors that it comes equipped with, altogether providing a highly capable and reliable long-range UUV perfect for a multitude of mission sets.
Extended-range capability has been a key component in many modern subsea vehicles. An impressive endurance capability can be seen in the HUGIN Endurance. The 11 meter long and 1.2 diameter long-range vehicle from Norwegian company Kongsberg Discovery pushes the boundaries of what’s possible with its size and composition. It’s rated to a depth of 6000 meters and built for long-distance, able to spend up to 15 days at sea without the need to be recharged using its new pressure-tolerant lithium batteries. This has also enabled a shore launch option, removing the need for a mother ship. Improved fins and a unique tail design allow for more stable flight across adverse ocean conditions. A new autonomous mission system enables enhanced situational awareness and decision making when deployed on operations, and paired with KONGSBERG’s Sunstone inertial navigation system (INS), the Endurance has highly accurate underwater positioning without the need for external sources. With a wide array of sensors including wide-swath high-resolution synthetic aperture sonar (HISAS 1032 Dual RX), multibeam echo sounder (EM 2040 MkII), color camera, laser profiler, magnetometer and environmental sensors, the Endurance is primed for applications varying from naval and scientific to even asset inspection and search-and-rescue operations, making it an impressive new addition to the current subsea market. Delivery of the first unit is scheduled for early 2024.
Marine robots have been developed for a range of unique and blank purposes. The EverClean service robot, developed by Greensea IQ, is a distinctive cleaning robot for underwater ship hull upkeep. The EverClean has recently undergone some substantial improvements, including its data collection and software capabilities. This marine robot offers ship owners and operators a simple, less labor-intensive and more cost-effective method of managing the marine biofouling of their vessels. With new hardware and software advancements, the vehicle can clean up to 50 square meters on a ship’s hull autonomously with improved obstacle detection, pausing only when operator intervention is required. Greensea has also increased the vehicle’s brush deck size, doubling the production rate of the previous iteration of the vehicle and reducing the necessary duration of supervised operation. Newly enhanced thrusters with more efficient power usage and distribution have given the EverClean enhanced responsiveness and maneuverability as well as lengthening cleaning times and reducing the frequency of recharging.
Greensea IQ’s advancements in the capabilities of the EverClean itself come alongside the recent launch of their advanced EverClean IQ software, which offers unmatched data collection and usage in the robot’s functions. Equipping the vehicle with sensors and cameras for recording brush pressure feedback and creating extremely accurate maps of the vessel for the purpose of improving future cleanings and enhancing future efficiency.
Software advancements such as EverClean IQ are just as significant in the growth of the subsea tech market as the robots and vehicles themselves. Oceaneering International, Inc. just released information
The Endurance is not the only vehicle with possible naval and military applications. Suitable for scientific surveying, data collection, and various military missions, the fully autonomous Bluefin-21 is the newest version of Bluefin’s highly modular advanced sensor-carrying UUV. Capable of descending to depths of up to 6000m, the Bluefin is spacious enough to accommodate advanced sensors, including state-of-the-art synthetic aperture sonar and hydrographic surveying sensors. With replaceable batteries and upgraded charging capacity, the Bluefin-21 can operate for up to 24-hours on a single charge, and due to its light weight and reasonable, 21-inch diameter size, it is portable and easily deployable.
The Bluefin is currently the base platform for military UUVs such as the U.S. Navy’s Knifefish. Ideal applications for the vehicle include mine countermeasures, intelligence preparation of the operational environment, hydrographic and military surveyance, deep water search and salvage, archaeology and exploration and unexploded ordnance missions.
The subsea market is not the only place where unmanned vehicles have been making impressive advancements in technology. A highly versatile surface vehicle, the DriX is Exail’s autonomous USV built for a wide range of applications and currently used by such entities as NOAA and the Ocean Exploration Trust. Seen below, the DriX is a lightweight but durable vehicle constructed of composite-Kevlar, featuring an inverted mono-hull design and sensor payload gondola.
Designed for long-range maritime surveillance, it can operate at sea autonomously for up to 10 days with a range of 650 nautical miles at usual survey speeds of 8 knots and the low fuel consumption rate of 2L/hour. DriX can support a variety of payloads such as a SSS, magnetometer, and third-party seabed mapping, characterization, navigation and positioning sensors, supporting applications such as hydrographic surveying, fisheries stock and biomass assessment, maritime domain awareness, offshore construction surveys, command and control and data transmission hub for other subsea vehicles.
Though much of the marine observations and operations market has given way recently to the hands-off possibilities of AUV, UUV and USV technology, new and innovative ROVs are still making their mark. SEAMOR and Voyis have partnered together to combine the SEAMOR Mako ROV with Voyis’ Discovery Stereo Camera, transforming the applications and abilities of both and reimagining what can be done in underwater inspection and exploration.
The portable Mako ROV is rated up to 600 meters and can be remotely operated on umbilical lengths of up to 950 meters. Its size and build make it ideal for pipe inspection, aquaculture, port security monitoring and various marine research operations. Likewise, the Voyis Discovery Stereo Camera is a widely applicable piece of technology offering high level clarity and precision in visual captures of underwater environments and immediate creature of real-time 3d models. The integration of both opens up unparalleled capacities in aquaculture management and hydroelectric applications, offering an efficient, cost-effective and reliable house for the stunning visual capturing capabilities of the Voyis Camera. Applications that look to be significantly improved in the ease and accuracy of data collection and monitoring include routine net inspections, equipment recovery, and surveying and sampling of the seabed.
Seatools’ new Fall Pipe ROV, the Yellowstone PLC, introduces unique and innovative features that offer high levels of precision in navigation and movement, advanced data collection and processing, and efficient workability and task execution. Featuring an integrated rotator which allows for the offsetting of the ROV’s heading relative to vessel heading, the Yellowstone can save significant power compared to conventional Fall Pipe ROVs and offer vastly enhanced workability or rock installation operations. The vehicle has an expansive on-board survey equipment suite developed for optimal positioning and operations management, as well as for prime ability to monitor the environment and conduct pre- and post-surveys with Seatools’ specially developed multicore processing technology.
Some companies have recognized the strong potential for autonomy optimization in the recent advancements in AI technology, and this includes underwater robotics company QYSea Technology and their newly modular, AI-powered advanced imaging and observational marine robot, the FIFISH E-GO. The E-GO offers a range of advanced capabilities not often seen in the subsea tech market. With a detachable motor, lighting, camera, and battery, module replacements can easily and quickly restore operability. This feature also allows for extensive expansion and customization of components. The E-GO has integrated AI into almost all operational aspects of their vehicle. With AI Vision Lock, it has high-level adaptive stabilization and can lock onto target objects with ease. Its plankton filtering algorithm is also AI bolstered, automatically optimizing visuals, monitoring tasks across aquaculture, search and rescue, hull check-ups and more, and even its laser scaling and measurement systems use AI automation for increased accuracy and the ability to identify damage in underwater structures. The FIFISH E-Go is QYSea’s most powerful professional-class underwater robot and is now available across all QYSea platforms.
Teledyne Marine recently introduced the Osprey AUV, a 5m long vehicle with a 0.3m diameter, weighing 400kg, rated to 1000 m and able to operate 24 hours @ 3.5 knots. The Osprey AUV builds upon the Gavia open and modular AUV, and added features include an efficient rim drive thruster, external data pod, increased capacity battery modules, science bay, obstacle avoidance and forward-looking sonar nose, and customizable payloads.
The Osprey also has an optional Attitude, Depth, & Heading (ADH) module for operations in complex and high current environments based on the successful buoyancy engine of the Slocum Glider coupled with a fin controller. Combined with a Synthetic Aperture Sonar, the Osprey elevates itself over the competition for data quality and consistency.
The Osprey AUV is comprised of five basic module types (Propulsion Module; Control Module; Battery Modules; Payload Module; and Nose Module) and an optional Attitude, Depth, and Heading (ADH) Module. Each module is portable, and once connected, is discoverable (including sensors), and extendable.
The Osprey AUV combines a high-accuracy survey-grade INS with Teledyne RD Instruments DVL aiding for navigation. Multiple DVL options are available providing bottom lock up to 850 meters. Further positioning accuracy can be maintained over longer duration deployments by utilizing Ultra Short Baseline (USBL) or ranging to bottom-moored Long Baseline (LBL) transponders (optional)
The vehicle can be customized to include multiple optional sensors including: Synthetic Aperture Sonar (SAS);Multi-Beam Echo Sounder (MBES);Side scan sonar (SSS); Sub bottom profiler (SBP); and high resolution camera, laser scanning, and strobes.
As needs for monitoring, measuring, and exploring our oceans and waterways constantly evolve and change, we can expect subsea technology and vehicles like those above to continue to be updated, developed, and pushed to the limits of what we think possible. For now, these are some of the top technology developments to keep an eye on as these companies continue to make impressive advancements towards the betterment and evolution of what we can do in the marine world.
About the Author:
Laurel Gallaudet, B.A., is a second-year Master's student in the Composition, Rhetoric, and Digital Media program at Nova Southeastern University's (NSU), where she obtained her bachelor of arts in Strategic Communication and Marine Biology. She is the Chief Marketing Officer of Ocean STL Consulting, LLC and has worked on several science communication projects with NSU’s marine sciences departments.