C4iSR: Maritime

Houston company developing UUV to manipulate at extreme depth without umbilical

11 December 2017
Houston Mechatronics’ Aquanaut minimally supervised, autonomous unmanned undersea vehicle (UUV) Source: Houston Mechatronics

A Houston, Texas-based company is working with the US Navy (USN) on a minimally supervised, autonomous unmanned undersea vehicle (UUV) that will be capable of operating deeper than 3,000 m without a surface vessel or an umbilical.

Nicolaus Radford, Houston Mechatronics senior vice-president for engineering and chief technology officer, said on 6 December the company’s product is called Aquanaut. Aquanaut, he said, is different from other technologies in that it is able to manipulate; or cut, move, or turn objects at depths of up to 3,000 m commercially using command and control (C2) over acoustic networks.

Aquanaut, Radford said, has a battery capacity of greater of 30 kW hours. He declined to say what depths the military version could perform manipulation.

According to Radford, Aquanaut can be delivered to the sea surface by a boat, small boat, helicopters, or anything else. The idea is to eliminate the need for the vessel, he said.

“It can swim really far, like an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), and when it gets to where it’s going, it can transform into a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) that doesn’t need cables, umbilicals, or tethers,” Radford told Jane’s at the Space Commerce Conference and Exposition (SpaceCom) in Houston. “It is supervised autonomous, we always intend to have a human in the loop.”

AUVs, also known as UUVs, can be used for underwater survey missions such as detecting and mapping submerged wrecks, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). A ROV, on the other hand, is an unoccupied underwater robot that is connected to a ship by a series of cables which transmit C2 signals between the operator and the ROV, allowing remote navigation of the vehicle. A ROV may include a video camera, lights, sonar systems, and an articulating arm.

Radford said because current UUV communication technology only allows high-speed communications over a couple hundred meters, there is a limitation in deployment range.

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