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A new unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) project offers an autonomous navigation system for maritime applications. The project received £400,000 from the UK Ministry of Defense.
In the maritime setting, changing tides and waves mean the ‘landscape’ is never the same twice, while underwater obstacles threaten boat bottoms and submarines. This is especially true around the entrances to ports and harbors.
As GPS signals cannot penetrate water, craft have to surface frequently for GPS ‘fixes’, and this requirement increases in the varied terrain of coastal waters – but surfacing brings the risk of collision.
Conventional navigation involves monitoring velocity between fixes, but vehicles can end up hundreds of meters off course as the water moves around them.
A new UUV project from the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) in Southampton, UK, uses Northstar, a fully autonomous navigation system from TP Group. The project will integrate Northstar onto Autosub Hover One, a craft developed at the NOC, to demonstrate autonomous navigation and control for long periods without frequent GPS fixes.
The development of the solution started with a ‘meta-heuristic algorithm approach’, also known as multi-factor optimized navigation. This multi-factor approach is combined with the requirement to operate in ‘GPS denied’ areas.
The team converted S57 navigation charts from the UK Hydrographic Office into computer-readable files. The system combines the 3D charts with tide and weather forecasts and overcomes the GPS issue using simultaneous localization and mapping (Slam). The project is developing sonar technology for Slam measurements, which are compared with the hydrographic data and augment conventional Doppler velocity and motion logs.
The result is an advanced autonomous navigation system, fusing real-time and reference data to create a “synthetic environment”. TP Group said the 4D awareness enables dynamic and real-time navigation, routing and collision avoidance in “any environment”.
The technology could be used in a wide range of submarine applications – surveying marine habitats or monitoring renewable energy installations. The solution featuring a combination of real-time and reference data is also applicable in the air and on land, according to imeche.org.