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New aquatic robot brings Internet of Things to marine environments

Water covers 70 % of the Earth’s surface, so it’s not surprising that autonomous surface vehicles (ASVs) have risen to the top of emerging technologies. An EU initiative introduced a cutting-edge ASV designed for seafloor and surface surveying, mapping and inspection.

Digital Economy

Tools and technology are lacking for efficient inspection of ports, bridges and offshore structures, and to map shallow waters like archaeological sites, marine habitats and marine pollution control. “Because of the high attenuation of radio waves, positioning, navigation and communication underwater is much more complex than on land,” says coordinator Dr Nikola Mišković of the EU-funded aPad project. “As a result, satellite navigation systems can’t be used.” State of the art for maritime and offshore industries The aPad team developed an autonomous unmanned marine surface robot that’s modular, scalable, lightweight and highly manoeuvrable. It’s equipped with four thrusters that enable movement in all directions. This is very important for marine surveillance applications because the view angle doesn’t coincide with the direction of motion. It can continue to operate even when one of the thrusters is faulty, which is often the case when working in polluted areas. Some key capabilities include path following, underwater target tracking, dynamic positioning, mission planning, formation keeping, and collision detection and avoidance. Depending on the mission, the marine robot is capable of carrying and operating different payloads for both above-water and underwater applications such as cameras, sonars and acoustic modems. The innovative machine provides position and navigational data for divers, underwater service vehicles and underwater wireless sensor networks. The marine satellite ensures wireless communication on land and at sea. “It helps us establish the Internet of Underwater things and gives us an opportunity to link terrestrial and underwater wireless networks into one unified Internet of things network,” he explains. The open-source on-board software architecture allows customers to easily modify and expand the vehicles themselves. The marine robot can explore archaeological sites in shallow waters, and greatly contribute to enhancing potential income derived from preservation and exploration of cultural heritage. In addition, it can contribute to the monitoring and restoration of coastal ecosystems. This will help to preserve the social benefits historically gained from functioning ecosystems. It can also serve as a support vehicle for AUVs or divers by providing two-way communication and tracking and monitoring of equipment and personnel thanks to innovative technology and state-of-the-art equipment. The surface unmanned vehicle can easily be operated by a single person. This simplifies logistics and deployment. What’s more, it can be modified for a new mission in less than an hour by employing different sensors on board or configuration options. Turning innovation into a commercially viable product In 2017, the aPad vehicle received a gold medal for innovation at the iENA International Trade Fair in Germany. To prepare for commercialisation, project partners produced a business model, gathered feedback from potential customers, end users and investors, and assessed technological impact. For marketing purposes, the robot has been renamed H2Omni-X. “Overall, our goal is to transform H2Omni-X into a market-ready product that’s able to jumpstart a sustainable business in the ASV field,” concludes Dr Mišković. To achieve this, the consortium established a spin-off company that recently introduced H2Omni-X to the market.

Keywords

aPad, ASV, H2Omni-X, autonomous marine robot, unmanned surface vehicle, marine surveillance

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