British Columbia-based International Submarine Engineering (ISE) has successfully completed the second stage in the autonomous dock prototype project – a joint programme between Dalhousie University and ISE, with funding provided by Innovation for Defence Excellence and Security (IDEaS), the company announced on 26 January.
The dock provides a platform for an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) to autonomously latch onto while underwater. Once latched, the AUV can then charge batteries and download operator data, then unlatch and proceed with the mission. This essentially eliminates the risks of launching and recovering during rough sea states, as well as greatly reducing downtime between missions.
The purpose of Phase 1b was to develop a prototype and prove the concept in a real-world subsea environment, using the ISE EXPLORER AUV and the new dock prototype. At a distance of up to 90m, the AUV uses multi-beam sonar to align itself with and navigate towards the dock. Once within 10m, the AUV automatically switches to camera tracking, homing in on the dock’s light array. Over a period of 10 days, the dock was put through extensive testing in highly turbid water; fully autonomous connections were being made between AUV and dock with resounding success.
There are many options for the next stage of this project, though the current focus is to include an un-crewed surface vessel to tow the dock, with a towed listening array on the AUV as part of the persistent maritime surveillance scope. Adapting the dock to allow for launch and recovery opens up multiple possibilities for the technology in other applications. The success of the project thus far highlights the experience and expertise ISE has acquired in over four decades of work in the subsea marine industry.