The Magazine for Underwater Professionals
Advances in autonomous underwater technology
For 14 years, the Australasian Hydrographic Society (AHS) and the Society for Underwater Technology have been organising the Autonomous Underwater Technology (AUT) Conference & Exhibition, an invaluable forum for the oil and gas industry, military and research professionals to interact and share new ideas, experience and knowledge.
The 10th AUT Conference & Exhibition took place on 18 October 2017 at the Pan Pacific Hotel in Perth, Western Australia, and included a extensive programme of technical presentations and dynamic round-table discussions focusing on the wide range of AUT applications.
This year, the AUT conference saw 95 attendees, almost 5% more than in 2015, coming from over 35 private companies and government institutions. The delegates and the presenters had a mixed background that included academic, industry and military experts, giving the conference a highly professional profile and significance, attracting Australian, as well as international, representatives.
Norman O’Rourke, SUT Perth secretary, opened the conference welcoming the attendees and exhibitors and thanking sponsors Fugro Survey, Woodside Energy, Blue Ocean Monitoring, the University of Tasmania (UTAS), the Australian Maritime College (AMC) and Kongsberg Maritime for their support, which made the 10th AUT conference possible. Norman also gave a special acknowledgement to the nine members of the 2017 Conference Organising Committee: Shuhong Chai (AMC UTAS), Steve Duffield (AHS), Pat Fournier (Neptune), Ian Hobbs (Fugro), Ben Hunt (Blue Ocean Monitoring), Nicholas Lake (Shell), Simon Tanner (Chevron), Peter Wademan (Woodside Energy) and Phil Wells (Neptune).
The opening session of the conference began with a very warm welcome from the session chair Steve Duffield (AHS) that, before introducing the keynote speaker, observed the Acknowledgement of Country.
The keynote presenter Mike Bowler (survey operations manager, Woodside Energy) gave an interesting overview of auto-nomous technology, stretching to autonomous surface vessels, hybrid surveys, real-time monitoring and data harvesting. With costs and HSE (health, safety and environment) as the main drivers for technology development, the autonomous systems are challenging opportunities that can be employed in all aspects of a field development, including pre-lay and inspection, up to decommissioning, and provide a cheaper, faster and safer alternative that can help the business.
The first speaker, Jan Ingulfsen (senior advisor survey and AUV operations, Swire Seabed), came directly from Norway and gave a very technical presentation, introducing the Ocean Infinity approach to seabed mapping by using multiple autonomous underwater vehicles and ASVs from one single host vessel. This method aims to achieve greater survey coverage while minimising the overall costs. Jan also introduced the concept of seabed intelligence and the challenges in storage, data processing and operation risks while operating unmanned vehicles.
Ryan Carmichael (commanding officer, Australian Mine Warfare Team 16, Royal Australian Navy – RAN) opened his presentation with humour, saying that the RAN has recently started using “some of your toys”, referring to the AUT that most of the attendees operate on daily basis. Ryan’s talk highlighted the need of a solid synergy across projects and with different research and educational organisations, pointing out some of the misconceptions about the Navy that should be overcome. The message was clear: RAN endorses collaborations with both private companies and academia, in order to achieve the best common goals.
Rich Rickett (director, Seatools) intrigued the audience presenting a new hybrid system in the form of a three-in-one underwater robot, combining AUV, ROV and diver propulsion capabilities. With this technical talk, Rich drew attention to the multiple uses that this man-portable equipment has in both military and commercial projects.
The morning break enabled the delegates to discuss the presentations and ask a few more questions to the first four presenters, while networking and visiting the stands of the exhibitors.
The morning session resumed with a talk given by Steve Hall (chief executive, SUT). His presentation was a brilliant photographic gallery of various examples of MASSMO (marine autonomous systems in support of marine observations) projects, carried out by the UK’s National Oceanography Centre (NOC). His talk also outlined the numerous NOC collaborations and the lessons learnt, including quality control, management and storage of a large amount of data. Lastly, he emphasised the concept that underwater and surface vehicles can (and should) work together.
The next presentation, by Grant Judson (principal advisor navigation, Australian Maritime Safety Authority), dealt with one of the “hottest topics” associated with the growing application of unmanned vehicles, specifically safety issues and Australian maritime regulators. Conversely from the traditional vessels, when considering an unmanned vehicle, especially an ASV, the most dangerous operations are nearshore, hence the development of standards for navigation is a priority, in order to operate every equipment in a safely manner, for vessels, people and environment.
With his visual presentation, Cory Brooks (marine divisional manager, Western Advance) showed several case studies of different applications of ASVs from around the world, from Alaska and Louisiana to Egypt and Perth. ASVs are currently increasingly employed in a broad spectrum of projects, including those with environmental and military purposes. As standalone or in conjunction with other more traditional methods, ASVs represent a cost-effective and safe new practice to acquire data.
The lunch break represented another significant opportunity for delegates and exhibitors to continue their networking, before heading off for the afternoon session, chaired by Peter Wademan (Woodside Energy).
Paul Hornsby (chairman, Australia On The Map) opened the afternoon session with a short and informal presentation on AUV capabilities and trends, emphasising the prominent role of unmanned and autonomous vehicles as revolutionary technologies designed to solve a variety of multi-domain (including surveillance) and multi-national challenges.
Session chair Peter Wademan presided over the panel discussion, one of the highlights of the conference. Together with Ross Dinsdale, Peter King and Grant Judson, the four panellists shared their opinions and expertise, answering numerous questions about unmanned and autonomous vehicles. The audience was particularly keen on widening the matter about Australian regulations and laws in regard to AUT. Among the discussed topics was the classification of gliders as marine debris and their freedom to drift in international waters. Another key topic of the panel discussion was the relation between AUT and marine fauna, the monitoring of which is still on going. This round-table discussion provided an interactive and informal learning environment, engaging all the delegates.
Che Keong (CK) Lee (sales subsea manager, Kongsberg Maritime) introduced for the first time the Eelume, a versatile snake-like subsea robot, which can “swim like an eel, cruise like an AUV and hover like an ROV”. CK also presented several fascinating videos of Eelume potentialities, like pipeline and subsea inspection, including its role as a resident robot that can stay up to six months in a subsea environment.
Anthony Gleeson (vice president, Sonardyne International) presented some remarkable real-time videos showing how acoustic and optical instruments are able to transfer large volumes of data over 1000 metres. This new technology enables an intelligent and instantaneous interaction between operators (on the host vessel) and an AUV in the marine environment.
Paul Georgeson (managing director, A60N) opened his presentation with a clever and effective comparison between power plugs and subsea telecommunications – as different countries have different plugs and sockets, there are also many different types of connectors in underwater technology. A joint project between Norwegian and Brazilian companies is developing a universal pin-less system to interface AUVs and cabled subsea communication applications for bi-directional power and data transfer. This new technology can be employed in both oil and gas and environmental monitoring.
During his talk, Peter King (AUV facility coordinator, AMC) showed several examples of the AMC suite of AUV simulation tools, crucial for planning, analysis and development. Simulators are in fact invaluable for later evaluations, training and modelling, allowing safe and cost-effective trials of AUVs.
Once again, the afternoon tea break was a constructive social gathering with the exhibitors and a great networking opportunity.
Resuming the afternoon session, Ross Dinsdale (general manager Asia-Pacific, Blue Ocean Monitoring) focused his presentation on several geochemical investigations undertaken with autonomous Slocum gliders. These particular gliders, equipped with fluorometers, are designed to detect methane and crude oil from natural seeps. They can be considered an excellent and safe ground truth method, to use also in conjunction with geophysical surveys and core sampling.
Giovanni De Vita (GIS and data management coordinator, DOF Subsea), with a technical and entertaining presentation, demonstrated how orange is the new yellow – in other words, how AUVs are overtaking the ROV in almost every aspect of a field development. In particular, pipeline inspection has become more efficient and cost-effective thanks to autonomous vehicles that provide, under the same time synchronisation, geophysical and environmental data with high-resolution images. This information is then streamlined during post-processing and delivered as a single GIS database.
For his second talk, Peter King presented a scientific and fascinating use of AUVs, exploration under the Antarctic ice. Specially designed for polar environments by the AMC, in collaboration with International Submarine Engineering, these exceptional AUVs can dive under metres of thick sea ice and ice shelves to investigate and study areas of a hostile and under-explored environment. The ground-breaking new information can also help scientists to better understand any impact that global warming has already had on the ice thickness and predict future melting trends.
Steve Duffield wrapped up the conference by thanking once again the sponsors, exhibitors, session chairs, panellists and delegates. He also mentioned the invaluable contribution of SUT Perth personnel (Jennifer Maninin, Corelle Charles, Fiona Allan and Marketa Mesman) in helping to make the AUT Conference an event of high international standard.
Steve concluded by saying that the AUT Conference and the remarkable presentations made him smarter, more educated and reinvigorated and closed the proceedings by inviting all conference participants to the 8th Annual Subsea Suppliers Forum, a post-conference event arranged by Subsea Energy Australia, for a final opportunity to network in a relaxed and social environment.