A UK boat has just finished an impressive demonstration of the future of robotics in maritime operations. The 12m Uncrewed Surface Vessel (USV) Maxlimer has completed a 22-day-long mission to record the area of the seafloor in the Atlantic. SEA-KIT International, which developed the machine, witnessed the entire mapping from its base in Tollesbury in eastern England. The mission was partly funded by the European Space Agency as robot boats offer the opportunity to drastically change the way humans work at sea.
Already, many big survey companies that own and operate traditional crewed vessels have started to invest heavily in newly developed, remote operated technologies. Freight companies are also acknowledging the cost advantages that will come with remote ships. However, before robot boats become commonplace, they must demonstrate their practicality and safety. This was the primary purpose of the Maxlimer.
The USV was dispatched from Plymouth in late July and sent about 460km to the south-west. Carrying a multi-beam echo-sounder, the boat mapped more than 1,000 sq km of continental shelf area with about 1 km in depth. Before the mission, this segment of seafloor had no modern data registered in the UK Hydrographic Office. SEA-KIT had intended to send the USV across the Atlantic to America for the demonstration, but due to the Covid-19 crisis this became impossible to plan.
The USV Maxlimer was originally developed for the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE. The goal of the competition was to discover next-generation technologies that could be utilized to map the ocean floor. Around four-fifths of the sea bottom have still not been surveyed in an acceptable resolution. Robotic solutions are vital if we want to change this and thus close the knowledge gap.
Maxlimer utilizes a combination and control system known as Global Situational Awareness via Internet. This allows the USV operator to remotely access CCTV footage, thermal imaging, and radar through the vessel, as well as listen live to the vessel’s surroundings and communicate with others in the vicinity. The machine links to three independent satellite systems to maintain contract with control in Tollesbury. The robot boat moves slowly, around 4 knots, but its hybrid diesel-electric propulsion system is highly efficient. In fact, the Maxlimer retired to Plymouth with its fuel tank still around a third full. Other partners on the project include: Global Marine Group, Map the Gaps, Teledyne CARIS, Woods Hole Group, and Nippon Foundation-GEBCO Seabed 2030 initiative.
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