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unmanned systems loom large at mmf 63

Updated: Nov 29, 2022

From basin-wide acoustic monitoring systems to unmanned surface vessel (USV) survey and data gathering operations, great in-roads are being made into how much we know about the oceans.

Some of these progressions were shared at the 63rd Marine Measurement Forum (MMF) held in late September 2020, hosted by underwater technology specialist Sonardyne International Ltd at the Farnborough Air Sciences Trust (FAST) museum in Hampshire.

The event was chaired by Sonardyne’s Geraint West – Global Business Manager, Oceanographic – and highlighted how an increasing amount of work is being performed using USVs and also via basin-wide collaborative monitoring efforts and new sensor developments, enabling researchers and industry to sense more with single platforms.

Speakers included representatives from (all UK) the Nekton Foundation; AutoNaut; the National Oceanography Centre; Chelsea Technologies; the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS); Plymouth Marine Laboratory; HR Wallingford; the National Physics Laboratory; R&V Hazlewood Associates; Sonardyne International and, from Ireland, XOCEAN.

The diverse programme is only selectively reviewed here and opened with Phil Johnston, AutoNaut’s Business Manager, discussing his company’s involvement in the Ocean Cleanup project. An AutoNaut USV is being used to monitor a 600m-long boom with a skirt that’s being developed to gather up plastics floating on the ocean, such as in the 1.6 million sq km “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”. Phil reported that the project’s aim is to have 60 systems operating globally.

Dr David Pearce from CEFAS explained how his organisation is assessing the benefits of the Liquid Robotics (USA) autonomous Wave Glider to enhance its work monitoring marine fish stocks and zooplankton. The Wave Glider, named “Lyra”, has been deployed on several long-duration missions and, as Dr Pearce commented “Fish is big; it’s feeding people and there’s a lot of work to be done”.

James Ives, CEO of XOCEAN reported on the use of USVs for another industry – oil and gas production. “XOCEAN is an ocean data company,” James told the event, “we collect and sell data. We just use something different to collect that data; USVs.” Successfully completed contracts to date include projects for the UK’s Maritime & Coastguard Agency, BP and the PX Group.

Away from the sea environment, Neil Crossouard from HR Wallingford outlined the usage of its two-person deployed, 2m-long ARC-Boat to survey inland waterways and ports/harbours. Neil outlined a project to trial sonar and assess different grades of positioning and motion compensation systems, so that the optimum instrumentation is used based on a survey’s requirements, including testing performance going underneath a bridge when satellite links were lost.

A testbed to further prove emerging marine autonomous systems and marine technology innovation is growing around the south coast of England with the launch of Smart Sound Plymouth. Dr James Fishwick, from Plymouth Marine Laboratory, updated the audience with news that Smart Sound covers >1000 sq km of authorised and de-conflicted water space in water depths down to 80m and expanded on the recent commitment to acquire comprehensive baseline monitoring equipment and systems.

The MMF audience also heard about Nekton Foundation’s ‘First Descent’ mission in the Seychelles and the use of Sonardyne International’s ‘BlueComm’ to broadcast live news bulletins to the world from manned submersibles subsea.

Marine noise monitoring, multi-parameter fluorometers, harbour wall overtopping detection and studies of ground waves caused by offshore construction operations were amongst the topics covered by other presenters during the duration of the forum.

MMF63 was held at Farnborough Air Science and Technology museum in Farnborough, a site which preserves history with archival and buildings dating back to 1906 including a 24ft wind tunnel, later upgraded to be transonic.

Sadly, the 64th MMF, scheduled to be part of the Marine Tech Expo in Plymouth June 2020, has become a victim of the Coronavirus pandemic and will be rescheduled for a future date. For further news in that respect, please keep an eye on this site.

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