Issues Archive

July/August 2018 Vol. 22
No. 4
 SeaTrac makes  
  self-driving boats that  
  are 'persistent,  
  versatile and  
 The Aquabotix SwarmDiver  
  is a micro unmanned  
  surface vehicle and  
  unmanned underwater  
  vehicle that operates in  
  a swarm 
It's New  


Twenty-five years ago Buddy Duncan and Jigger Herman built a 35-foot (10.7-metre) instrumented sailboat they affectionately named the ‘Green Pig’. It was custom built to measure sail performance, was painted green, and had unattractively high topsides due to research requirements – and thus its name. Its collection of wind sensors, wires and other hardware raised the eyebrows of passing boaters in Massachusetts’s Marblehead Harbor, but Duncan and Herman disregarded the odd looks; they were Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA, ocean engineers helping to architect a faster boat for Bill Koch’s America3 America’s Cup campaign, and astute readers will remember how that turned out.

Last summer, Marbleheaders were staring again: this time as Duncan and Herman motored alongside a sleek, red, 15-foot (4.6-metre) monohull, propelling itself thanks to an array of solar panels across its top. The more attractive autonomous surface vessel got a much better reception than the Green Pig, with passing boaters going out of their way to ask questions and take pictures.

Duncan and Herman are hard at work launching SeaTrac Systems, USA, which is the third company they have started together after more than two decades of successful collaboration. SeaTrac makes self-driving boats that are “persistent, versatile and cost-effective”.

“They are controllable from anywhere, can have multiple payloads, uplink data they collect via satellite, and are deployable for missions ranging from several weeks to months to a year,” the pair said.

Duncan and Herman added that their vessels have a top speed of four knots, a payload capacity of 65 pounds (29.5 kilograms), the latest collision avoidance software, and can station keep within nine metres. The vessels can operate in deepest ocean, or in as little as 2.5 feet (0.8 metres) of water, and since they are battery/solar powered, require no wind or waves to propel themselves, they said.



USA-based Houston Mechatronics has announced its “revolutionary” new subsea robot, Aquanaut. The company said the multipurpose robot employs a patented shape-shifting transformation from an AUV to an ROV, removing the need for vessels and tethers. The vehicle enables both the efficient collection of data over long distances as well as manipulation of subsea objects at a significantly lower cost than today’s technology, according to the firm.

“We firmly believe that this technology is a revolution in subsea robotics. Aquanaut, and our tightly coupled over-the-horizon software Commander, enables Houston Mechatronics to deliver more feature rich, safer subsea services to commercial and defence customers that demand it,” said Houston Mechatronics CEO Matthew Ondler. “Our team developed some of the most advanced robots that NASA ever produced and has been developing advanced subsea robotics technology for confidential customers for years. Aquanaut represents the pinnacle of our company’s expertise and experience and we are beyond excited to introduce this vehicle to customers.”

Nic Radford, the company’s CTO, said: “We saw a great opportunity to fundamentally change the commercial and defence subsea markets with Aquanaut. Aquanaut was designed to operate over-the-horizon with onshore operator supervision. We have removed the need for onsite vessels (and people) from subsea work while still maintaining the operator’s situational awareness and the ability to modify missions, which our customers demand. Our capability can truly transform industries. For the warfighter, this means increasing the standoff distance therefore resulting in safer conditions. For commercial customers, this means that we can provide more capability than they have today for much less cost.”



UK-based OSIL has announced the launch of its new expandable deep-sea camera system, a pressure activated self-contained system which allows for the integration of additional instrumentation.

“The novel system is activated by a pressure switch in the intelligent battery pack which can be programmed at the surface to turn the camera on and off at specific depths, preventing users from having to record and review hours of wasted footage, and can also independently or concurrently activate any instrumentation that is connected to it,” the company said.

Data is recorded onto a standard microSD memory card. Several hours of video footage can be built up over repeated deployments depending on the camera resolution settings and memory card used. Larger power packs are available for extended deployments. Recharging and data transfer takes place via an external connector.

“The self-contained system delivers even under extreme low-light conditions, and gives high quality images in fine detail,” said OSIL. “The system employs a full HD camera together with a dimmable all-purpose LED light, and a battery pack that can either be integrated into the same housing as the camera, or kept as a separate component depending on system requirements.”

The camera is equipped with a 2750-lumen LED light with variable intensity to allow adjustments to be made for visibility. The standard housing is rated to 6000 metres, but systems for shallower use are also available.



The next generation of unmanned surface vessels from Cornwall, UK-based Unmanned Survey Solutions (USS), the Accession-class, has been given the green light thanks to a grant from Marine-i, part-funded by ERDF (European Regional Development Fund).

USS has successfully introduced the Inception-class Mk1 and Mk2 USVs to the survey market. “Built by surveyors, for surveyors”, these USVs survey in shallow coastal or inland areas. The Accession-class next generation USV is a much larger vessel for use in the open ocean.

James Williams, director at USS, said: “This is a fantastic opportunity and we’re delighted to receive support from the Marine-i Marine Challenge Fund over the next five years to be able to develop our own offshore renewables class vessel. We’re now looking for project partners to help us design the Accession-class USVs with the right specifications.”

Marine-i is an EU-funded programme that provides support for marine technology businesses operating in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.



Aquabotix, the underwater robotics company with operations in Australia and the US, has released SwarmDiver, a micro unmanned surface vehicle and unmanned underwater vehicle that operates in a swarm. Multiple SwarmDivers can function simultaneously as a single coordinated entity, be easily controlled via one operator on the surface, and perform dives on command to collect valuable intelligence, according to the company.

Whitney Million, Aquabotix’s chief executive officer, said: “This vehicle is a game-changer for both the industry and Aquabotix. Until today, there were simply no micro hybrid USV/UUV vehicles and no swarming unmanned vehicles with diving capabilities commercially available in the industry. Aquabotix has changed that.

“Maritime swarming is rapidly becoming an area of focus for naval forces globally, and SwarmDiver leads a revolution in underwater technologies. The hybrid system advances amphibious warfare tactics as it is engineered to handle dynamic operational situations, including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions and sophisticated, coordinated assaults through tracking, trailing and overwhelming targets.”

In addition to defence and security applications, SwarmDivers can be deployed in research, harbour management and oceanography, Million added.



Valeport, UK, reports the launch of a unique new probe that combines the power of the company’s SWiFT SVP and a turbidity sensor. The new SWiFTplus is intended for coastal, harbour and inland environmental and hydrographic survey use and offers high quality profiles in a compact, robust and portable package, the firm said.

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