AUVSI’s annual XPONENTIAL conference is evolving from one focused on just aerial vehicles to one that encompasses all unmanned systems. This year’s event offered a great opportunity to share lessons learned and successes from multiple years of unmanned vehicle operations in remote and harsh environments. Kellie Keller, Sr. Director of Programs, and Rajesh Jha, Manager of Software Engineering, delivered the technical session. Here I’ll share a summary of what they presented at XPONENTIAL. For the full details, download the white paper.
Taking ocean measurements in 6m waves and remote locations is often best suited to unmanned vehicles. With 10 years of operations, Liquid Robotics and our partners continue to discover the value of collaboration with both customers and scientific organizations. And while many problems can be anticipated, nothing beats practical experience to illuminate ways to improve the performance of equipment in harsh environments.
Before I jump into the story, here’s a 30-second video from the float (deck) of a Wave Glider.
Wave Gliders have had years of exposure and the worst the ocean can offer, and in response we’ve engineered design changes impacting everything from communications to propulsion. For example, one can imagine how a platform might respond to being run into an iceberg, but seeing this happen in real-life and then seeing the vehicle swim away unharmed provides key validation of a robust design. And while each mission possesses its own unique challenges, missions in extreme latitudes such as the Arctic and Southern Oceans, or in areas with harsh conditions like the North Sea, have provided invaluable insights to operating unmanned systems in harsh and difficult environments.
With our customers, we have run missions in the Arctic from 2011 through 2015. Some quick statistics:
There are a range of challenges when operating in the Arctic with both manned and unmanned systems, especially at latitudes above 70 degrees. Key lessons learned included:
Wave Gliders in the North Sea
Experience with operations in the Arctic and other areas such as the Southern Ocean have shaped engineering, sensor integration and mission planning efforts. In October 2016, Wave Gliders operated in the heavy sea states of the North Sea in an experiment series called MASSMO 3 (Marine Autonomous Systems in Support of Marine Observations). The MASSMO experiments are run by the UK National Oceanographic Center (NOC) and MASSMO 3 was sponsored by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) which aims to ensure that innovative science and technology contribute to the defense and security of the UK. The 2016 exercise involved a fleet of up to 12 submarine gliders and unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) operating off the northwest coast of Scotland in Autumn 2016.
The unique design of the Wave Glider system allowed it to operate in conditions too dangerous and difficult for manned systems and enabled the collection of consistent measurements from multiple vehicles. Key statistics about this mission include:
The following picture shows both tactically relevant data, as well as independent and consistent measurements across vehicles.
The key to successful operations in the difficult conditions of the North Sea included:
The Wave Gliders deployed on this mission performed well, stayed on course, and managed power per mission plans with no unplanned recoveries.
For Liquid Robotics, missions in locations such as the Arctic and North Sea have influenced platform design and sensor integration, inspired collaboration, and proven operational capabilities. Sending them farther, keeping them in operation longer, sharing data in real-time, and connecting them to other platforms or systems expands their value for customers. Achieving these goals comes through technical innovation, collaboration, and continuous improvements to operations.
The evolution of unmanned systems for the ocean is accelerating and moving from single system deployments to larger and operational deployments that involve multiple systems above and below the sea in continuous operation. As we augment and improve how dull, dirty, and dangerous work occurs, and enable new capabilities, we will see innovations that address environmental, economic, and security needs in astounding ways.