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MANO: Bluefin-12 AUV

Introduction

Bluefin Robotics builds and manufactures modular free-flooded Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) platforms for defense, commercial and scientific applications, and have delivered more than 80 AUVs to customers world wide. The OTL engaged Bluefin to build and AUV specially designed to faciliate research into AUV sensor development and advanced guidance and navigation algorithms. The result was MANO a Bluefin-12 AUV with a flexible payload.

MANO: BF-12

Saab SeaEye Falcon

OTTB

MACO- Hybrid AUV

HD Camera

Underwater GPS

Custom and New Sensor Integration

AUVs are beginning to become commonplace in the underwater community. Well developed AUV programs exist at UBC, Memorial University and of course here at UVic. As the use of AUVs becomes more widespread, researchers have become increasingly interested in developing new instrumentation for AUVs and tailoring existing equipment to facilitate integration.

This was the inspiration for the MANO project - to develop an AUV platform that could be used in conjuction with the Ocean Technology Test Bed at UVic, to provide a test platform for developing, trialing and benchmarking underwater instrumentation on AUVs.

The key to facilitating this research is providing an easy integration method that minimizes the up front cost of testing, to allow instrument developers to test their sensor out on the platform without having to purchase an AUV themselves or have a customer that is willing to pay for integration costs on an unproven instrument. With MANO, the payload is completely independantly of the main vehicle; a seperate payload computer interacts with the primary vehicle computer to get navigation information and mission updates, and facilitates communication to the payload sensors. Updating software on the payload computer to support new instruments in a relatively straight forward task as it bypasses all the difficulties associated with integrating the sensor control directly into the vehicle control software. The OTL also has a sheltered operations area which minimizes the ship support and man power required to conduct testing.

Today MANO is being used to trial a new Conductivity Temperature and Depth (CTD) sensor, Oxygen sensor and sonar system.

Integration of AUVs into Cabled Underwater Observatories

The OTL has teamed up with VENUS to expolore the integration of AUVs into cable ocean observatories. There are many philosophical and technical questions to answer in this integration. How will oceanographers and biologists use the AUV? What is the best way of publishing the data? How can data integrity be assured over long duration deployments.

Research on the Horizon

Tightly Integrated Navigation

With MANO it is possible to explore the advantages of tightly integrating vehicle navigation and control with sensors. In general payload sensors and vehicles are developed seperately. However, there may be some advantages to having a tighter relationship between the vehicle and sensor, particularly with sonars - where image quality can depend on the vehicle performance.

Payload Based Guidance

Most AUVs fly a pre-determined mission, collect data while they are flying, and they return to the surface where the data is downloaded. This makes them very efficient for surveying larger areas. Payload based guidance allows the payload to modify the mission on the fly to control where the vehicle goes. This can be used for maping the extents of a plume of pollutants or to create a detailed map of an interface (such as the interface between the oxic and anoxic layer).

Autonomous Instrumentation

An autonomous instrument is one that can utilize an underwater vehicle for communication. The instrument would be equiped with a homing beacon and a low power communication system. The underwater vehicle will home in on the instrument and, once in range, initiate a communication link. This link could be used to download data, upload new software, or collect vital statistics such as battery levels.

An autonomous instrument can be deployed at any location on the seafloor that is accessible by an underwater service vehicle. When used in the context of an ocean observatory which has an underwater vehicle permanently on-site, autonomous instruments can extend the reach of the node without requiring additional cables or a power hungry wireless networking system.

Autonomous instrument interfaces can also provide additional flexibility to existing underwater sensing systems. Since the service vehicle only passively interacts with the sensor, it can be used to obtain interim data during an experiment without disturbing the sensor mooring. This can provide invaluable information about the status of long term experiments and provide interim data to researchers. This type of data collection and monitoring system could reduce the cost of doing research by making permanently installed research moorings more useful.

Resources

Bluefin Robotics continues to support the OTL in the day to day vehicle operations, providing technical assistance with the vehicle and new sensor integrations. In Canada, Bluefin customers have an additional support system through ING Engineering. In addition to operating Bluefin-AUVs for commercial clients, ING also provides technical and operational support.

The aquisition of MANO was funded by Western Economic Diversification Canada.

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