A collaborative project is underway to develop an AutoNaut capable of operating in the Southern Ocean in winter.
Challenges which require novel solutions include preventing salt water spray icing up on a small USV and autonomous ice avoidance, as well as harvesting energy on the move when it is too dark for PV panels to charge the batteries. Solutions to these challenges will be developed jointly with our partners at the University of East Anglia, and the University of Exeter’s Energy Harvesting Research Group.
In May 2017 the UK government launched its £4.7 billion Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF). AutoNaut won funding with a bid to Innovate UK under its Robotics and Artificial Intelligence R&D stream for extreme and challenging environments. This three year project kicked off on 1 January 2018.
At present there is a shortage of data from the Southern Ocean, especially in winter when very few ships pass through. There are important data to collect, when we have a USV capable of operating in such a hostile environment, such as the CO2 flux at the surface of the Southern Ocean, as well as data on water temperature and mixing, and biomass.
The development of a very robust AutoNaut USV for high latitude work, with the capability to operate in the dark and near ice, has great global potential. Some of the most difficult areas for offshore renewables and oil and gas industries are in such extremely hazardous environments.
SMART IMAGES: Seiche Ltd also bid successfully to the ISCF call, for a project using AutoNaut to develop smart on-board processing of images for real time situational awareness. While this is principally focused on using AutoNaut to monitor marine mammals for the oil and gas industry, in which Seiche already has excellent imaging technology, it will be interesting to explore its potential for avoiding ice, small boats, and smart surveillance.