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Marine Robotics: Toward Networked Systems

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Justin Manley

Justin Manley

Industry view: Justin Manley on Marine Robotics, Toward Networked Systems, by Justin E. Manley Senior Director, Business Development Teledyne Marine Systems

It is clear that unmanned maritime vehicles (UMVs) are reshaping the economics of marine operations.  But most operators are accruing only incremental benefits. The current situation for UMVs is much like the personal electronics scene of the late 1990s. Recall the days when a well-outfitted early adopter would have a standalone GPS receiver, mobile phone and personal digital assistant (PDA). The lucky few managed to connect that phone to the PDA and access a rudimentary world wide web, in grayscale and text. Likewise today’s UMV users must acquire specific kit for particular missions. Modular architectures and shrinking sensors are increasing utility for individual platforms. But today we are still awaiting the equivalent of the smartphone era in UMV operations. 

Carrying forward the comparison to mobile phones, what might UMV operators look forward to in the future? Today an average smart phone user can take their device anywhere in the world and access voice calls, email, web browsing, map based navigation and a host of specialized “apps” for advanced tasks such as currency calculations or travel bookings. This capability is built upon enabling developments in hardware and accepted standards for connectivity. Seamless roaming across different networks is also key to the user experience. Such a reality is coming to the undersea realm.

UMVs in coming years will draw upon advanced connectivity to “network” into ever more productive roles. UMV payload modules will be swappable between a traditional survey undersea vehicle and a long endurance glider. Meanwhile gliders will include propellers to overcome the occasional current or better navigate in operational areas such as under ice. Drifting and energy harvesting surface platforms will provide overhead coverage for telemetry and positioning to heterogeneous undersea systems. Open communications protocols will enable basic “roaming” for UMVs moving amongst networks. How might such a future change the picture for actual ocean applications?  All we can know for sure is that it will bring tremendous benefits to marine operators and offer significant new opportunities for technology providers.

(source: oceanology – ocean space)

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