Military

Royal Navy trials robotic boat for surveying sea bottom

Royal Navy trials robotic boat...
The Otter Pro remote-controlled vessel for conducting underwater survey operations
The Otter Pro remote-controlled vessel for conducting underwater survey operations
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The Otter Pro on the move
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The Otter Pro on the move
The Otter Pro remote-controlled vessel for conducting underwater survey operations
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The Otter Pro remote-controlled vessel for conducting underwater survey operations
The Otter Pro uses an array of sensors to chart the sea bottom
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The Otter Pro uses an array of sensors to chart the sea bottom
The Project Hecla team
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The Project Hecla team
Sonar image collected by the Otter Pro
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Sonar image collected by the Otter Pro
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The Royal Navy is testing a robotic boat designed to survey uncharted waters as part of an investigation into the use of uncrewed vessels for military surveying operations. The Otter Pro boat was tested on Horsea Lake at the Defence Diving School, Portsmouth by the Navy's Project Hecla team and used a range of sensors to chart the lake bottom.

One of the Royal Navy's greater, though lesser known, achievements is its extensive mapping of waters all over the world. This is a blessing because it has provided mariners with accurate charts, some of which have changed little for centuries, and a curse because the Navy must constantly update most of them.

The problem is that the sea simply refuses to cooperate by standing still. There is constant erosion, depositing of sediments, earthquakes, sea level changes, and shifting of currents. Of course, human activity also plays a part, with dredging, modifications of channels, moving buoys, planes crashing, ships sinking, and all manner of construction, dumping, and destruction.

The Project Hecla team
The Project Hecla team

To cope with the Sisyphean task, the Navy is looking to remote controlled and autonomous boats to take on some of the workload. As part of this, the Otter Pro made by RS Aqua Ltd was deployed on the 7,000-sq-m (75,000-sq-ft) Horsea Lake to gather sonar imagery of the water, the seabed, and objects on the bottom. During the two-hour-long trial, the team mapped the decay and structural collapse of a sunken day cruiser, a motor boat, and a helicopter, as well as detecting swim lines and seabed erosion caused by divers.

The trials will now move on to a more complex environment, where the Otter Pro will demonstrate near-real-time data processing as well as testing the craft's Norbit multibeam echo sounder and other sonar devices.

Sonar image collected by the Otter Pro
Sonar image collected by the Otter Pro

“Although the Otter Pro is being operated to enable Project Hecla to refine future operating concepts of uncrewed surface vehicles in future military surveying applications, it has begun to prove itself as being superior to existing portable systems,” says Commander Graham Mimpriss, Royal Navy lead for the trials. “Using a rapid response context, this vehicle was mobilized within an hour of arrival having been transported to the site in a van.

“The team on its first outing surveyed Horsea Lake in 40 minutes and then generated a viable product within an hour. This was achieved with a team of three without the need for a boat or jetty facilities for launching or recovery. During surveying, two of the team acted as pilot and looked out for the vehicle and the third was processing the data in near real time. Our existing platforms would be hard pressed to match this performance in a rapid response scenario.”

Source: Royal Navy

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