SWARM DIVING DRONES. A NEW MILITARY AND SCIENTIFIC TOOL?
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by Cori Marshall
On April 9, 2018, UUV Aquabotix Ltd., a company based in Australia and the United States, released its latest piece of technology. The SwarmDiver™ is the first micro hybrid unmanned surface vehicle (USV) and unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) to hit the commercial market. It is also the first USV/UUV commercially available with swarming technology.
Essentially Aquabotix has created an oceangoing drone that is three-quarters of a meter in length and weighs less than four pounds. This new USV-UUV was designed to be used in for multiple applications such as environmental monitoring, plume tracking, 3D synoptic data gathering, and autonomous depth sounding. It can even be used a mobile buoy marker.
Whitney Million, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Aquabotix, highlighted that a key feature of the SwarmDiver™ is that "it allows you to take multiple data points at the same time." This is made possible by the swarm technology.
The benefit of the "swarm" technology is that "you can take data from multiple points which can give you a better picture of what is going on in that area," Million said.
A promotional video shows a swarm of roughly thirty working in concert. Having large numbers of data gathering drones is useful when taking multiple depth and temperature readings at different areas of a lake or river, for example. Aquabotix designed the SwarmDiver™ to be "a cost-effective solution for applications requiring specialized sensor payloads in defence, oceanography, aquaculture, research and hydrographic survey," according to the product brochure.
The SwarmDiver™ can be deployed autonomously or manually, as well as being designed for easy recovery. It also has the ability to dive vertically up to 50m.
When the USV-UUV surfaces, it sends data feedback wirelessly. It can operate in surf zones, is equipped with a high-accuracy temperature and pressure sensor, and can be geolocated, give or take 1m of its actual location.
The differential drive motors, located in the motor cage at the front of the vehicle, allow it cruise at a speed of 4.3 knots or 2.2 metres per second.
A major selling point of the technology is that it allows an operator, on the surface, to "interact with the swarm as a single entity," according to the product brochure.
Million explained that the USV/UUV "is definitely a stand-alone product, though it is complementary to the rest of our product line."
We asked what are the niche markets for this technology. Million responded that "the government would be one area, oil and gas industry, it really depends on the systems that are integrated into it."
The SwarmDiver™ comes with standard technical specifications, and extra (I2C, SPI, UART) sensors can be added. The brochure indicates that there "additional customization options are available."
The autonomous vehicle was featured at Sea Air Space 2018, which is the Navy League's global maritime exposition, an annual event that brings together the military and the private sector.
The media attention that the SwarmDiver™ has garnered has centered around its military capabilities. Though it can be weaponized, it has advantageous scientific and industrial applications. This micro USV/UUV can change how we monitor our water environments.
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