Royal Navy tests robotic boat for surveying uncharted waters

A new robot boat which can be used to quickly survey uncharted waters and gather data.
A new robot boat which can be used to quickly survey uncharted waters and gather data. Credit: Royal Navy

Unmanned technologies are gradually gaining ground in all industries. The direction of ocean research, where drones have been used for a long time, was no exception.

The Royal Navy is testing a robotic boat, which can be used to quickly survey uncharted waters and gather data. The Otter Pro boat was tested on Horsea Lake at the Defence Diving School, Portsmouth, by the Navy’s Project Hecla team. Using a range of sensors, the remote-controlled vessel will gather data on the water around it and objects on the seabed.

One of the greater achievements of the Royal Navy is the extensive mapping of waters around the world. This is something that is advantageous because it has provided mariners with accurate charts. The problem is that the ocean is not so easy to explore. There is constant erosion, deposition of sediments, earthquakes, changes in sea level, and shifts in currents.

To solve this problem, the country’s Navy is looking for remote-controlled and autonomous vessels to take on some of the workloads. In the tests at the Horsea Lake, the Otter Pro made by RS Aqua Ltd was able to collect sonar imagery of the water, the seabed, and objects on the bottom. During the two-hour-long trial, the team mapped the decay and structural collapse on a sunken day cruiser, motorboat, and helicopter and also picked up swim lines and seabed erosion caused by divers.

During its first hour in the water, the vessel proved its ability to deploy and gather survey information quickly and effectively – surveying an area the size of the pitch at Fratton Park.

Although the Otter Pro is being operated to enable Project Hecla to refine future operating concepts of uncrewed surface vehicles in future military surveying application, it has begun to prove itself as being superior to existing portable systems,” said Commander Graham Mimpriss, Royal Navy lead for the trials. “Using a rapid response context, this vehicle was mobilized within an hour of arrival having been transported to the site in a van.

The Hecla project team surveyed the 7,000 square meters Horsea Lake in 40 minutes and then generated a viable product within an hour.

This was achieved with a team of three without the need for a boat or jetty facilities for launching or recovery. During surveying, two of the team acted as the pilot and looked out for the vehicle, and the third was processing the data in near real-time,” Mimpriss added. “Our existing platforms would be hard-pressed to match this performance in a rapid response scenario.

The next stage of the trials will see the robotic boat tested in a more complex environment, and its near-real-time data processing will be refined. The team will also further examine the Otter’s Norbit multi-beam echo sounder and different sonar systems.