During the second day at the 2022 Marine Autonomy and Technology Showcase (MATS), Ocean Scientist Nathan Hunt gave a talk on the autonomous capabilities of the SEABER YUCO Micro-AUV and gave examples of real-world use cases of the AUV since its launch. To highlight the success of these use cases, we have summarised Nathan’s talk below.

The Challenge

Coastal environments are considered challenging areas to navigate when it comes to data collection and aside from micro-AUVs, there are three main methods for collecting oceanographic data. These are fixed measurements, vessel-based motoring, and larger autonomous vehicles. These methods, however, come with constraints such as spatial variability, cost, personnel investments and lengthy data recovery.

The Solution

Rather than trying to replace the highly populated AUV space that already exists, the idea is for the YUCO to operate in a space alongside the larger vehicles, but in a capacity not yet exploited.

What differentiates the YUCO from other AUVs in the micro-AUV space is not just its pink colour, but its ease of use, its ruggedness, small form factor, and great navigational accuracy. It’s powerful enough to support missions up to 8-10 hours in length, operating at 2.5 kts but to a maximum of 6kts if required. Operating to a navigation error of 1% over 1km using Seaber’s proprietary ‘INX’ onboard navigation and a WaterLinked DVL. The platform supports quick battery recharging through an external connection in the antenna, and data offload via WiFi connection. 

Case Study – Dalhousie University

The first application Nathan detailed in his talk at MATS 2022 was the Tracer Release Experiment (TReX), which is based in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and jointly supported by the Réseau Québec maritime and the MEOPAR network. The main aims of this project are to develop marine dispersion observation and forecasting capabilities, and improved response to maritime incidents in coastal areas such as oil spills. 

To fulfil the needs of this monitoring requirement, a YUCO-PHYSICO unit was deployed with Dalhousie University in the Estuary of the St. Lawrence River, near Rimouski – Canada. 

The YUCO-PHYSICO integrates an AML 3-RT sonde with 3 x sensors, which in this instance were a Fluorometer, CTD and SVP. Throughout a period of 4 days, more than 15 x deployments of the YUCO-PHYSICO were undertaken, making use of the AUV’s high speed and manoeuvrability to chase down and perform transects through the Rhodamine cloud.

Fig.1 Rhodamine concentration transect pattern performed by YUCO-PHYSICO

The YUCO surveyed a total distance exceeding 25km, collecting vital data on die tracing, while maintaining a navigational that exceeded expectations. This deployment served as an innovative example for the validity of micro-AUVs to track and follow pollutants in hydrodynamic environments. 

Case Study – Marine Institute JERICO Project

The second case study Nathan detailed was that of the Marine Institute JERICO project which allowed a period of access to the SmartBay Observatory in Galway Bay. The main objective was to test and demonstrate the capability of the YUCO micro-AUV in providing spatially referenced, qualitative salinity data in a turbulent coastal environment where waves, currents, and tides are all present

For the aim of of the project, the YUCO-CTD integrating the RBRlegato CTD was selected. During the access period at SmartBay, the YUCO undertook various missions in Galway Bay, collecting CTD data around fixed observatories of the SmartBay Observatory.

Once the YUCO was recovered, the data showed that despite the tidal currents in the area, the AUV was able to compensate for tide and reach the designated profiling points with great accuracy. 

Fig.2 CTD profiles of the YUCO-CTD missions during SmartBay access

These missions demonstrated the capability of the platform to facilitate complete, reliable dataset collections in a challenging coastal environment while remaining simple in configuration, deployment & recovery, and data offload. 

 Case Study – REP(MUS) 2022

The last case study Nathan presented was the REP(MUS) 2022 exercise in Lisbon. RS Aqua and Seaber attended the event to support the Royal Navy with training and trialling of their previously acquired 4 YUCO micro-AUVs. After briefing and training the RN project team, all 4 YUCO AUVs undertook multiple deployments at the Lisbon site.

Fig.3. Image from YUCO training at REP(MUS) 2022

These exercises demonstrated the ease of mission planning, with some missions planned or adjusted on the beach, 5 minutes prior to deployment. They also displayed the simplicity of the deployment, recovery and debrief procedures across all four YUCO platforms. The AUVs collected high-quality data for comparison with previous equipment deployments, including some excellent SSS imagery of a local wreck.

Future Plans

All three case studies of the YUCO micro-AUV showcased the reliability and maturity of the systems. But what of the future? In the coming years, the micro-AUV space is believed to become more populated both in quantity and frequency of use as autonomous systems become the preferred choice for oceanographic research. As such, Nathan explained, swarm technologies is one of the expected large-scale applications for the YUCO. In addition, Seaber has been exploring new applications for their design such as training targets and Anti Submarine Warfare (ASW) and as a result, recently revealed their new line – RECALL.

We look forward to supporting and representing Seaber’s success in the coming years.

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