The KONGSBERG AUVs are scheduled for delivery this year, with the USVs following in the late summer/early autumn of 2022. The AUVs are depth-rated to 1,500m and are equipped with a powerful payload for environmental monitoring and seabed mapping.
The four autonomous vessels will be equipped with KONGSBERG’s new Blue Insight, a cloud-based ecosystem designed to facilitate remote instrument operation, data visualisation and smart management of oceanographic and meteorological data. Infrastructure for automated classification of fish through machine learning is a key feature of the delivery, consolidating the long-running partnership between KONGSBERG and the IMR towards the goal of implementing seagoing drones for ecosystem management.
Combining AUV and USV operations is a pioneering strategy which is set to become increasingly widespread in the future. This integrated autonomous survey solution is the first of its kind, and the investment testifies both to the IMR’s future-focused, sustainability-based ambitions and to its faith in KONGSBERG’s ability to supply the most advanced autonomous craft.
The Sounder USVs carry a scientific package which has been devised to provide optimal performance; a versatile, flexible, multi-purpose data-gathering platform which can be used for a variety of hydroacoustic observation and surveying applications, ranging from seabed mapping to fishery research. The IMR USVs will be equipped with a full EK80 wideband system accommodating ADCP functionality, similar to the setup on their existing research vessels.
Capable of running for up to 20 days at a speed of 4 knots, the Sounder USV is designed to enable a rapid and simple changeover of its sensor payload, and can be configured to allow equipment to be mounted in its roomy moonpool, on its bow or on its keel in an underwater sensor gondola – a special adaptation which is an ideal arrangement for this solution. The USV’s onboard power generation capabilities enable several payloads to be operated simultaneously.
With a compact length of 8m, the Sounder USV also boasts a well-balanced hull, designed to produce the most accurate data from acoustic instruments by ensuring the smoothest possible passage through the water. This minimises the presence of aerated water and optimises the signal/noise-in-water ratio, factors that might otherwise adversely affect the results. With the bow, rudders and stabilising fins working together to minimise rolling, pitching and drag while enhancing manoeuvrability, the Sounder USV constitutes a highly cost-effective and environmentally-sound surveying tool. It can be transported in standard-sized shipping containers, and is covered by KONGSBERG’s global service and support network.
Importantly, control and navigation of both AUVs and the Sounder USVs can be handled just by a single interface. The comprehensive overview provided by this fleet management capability enables interoperability between all assets and reduces in-mission complexity.
As one of the largest marine research institutes in Europe, the IMR is committed to promoting sustainable practices at sea, and digitalisation is a cornerstone of this policy. Stimulus programmes introduced last year to facilitate remote working during and after the pandemic have accelerated the institute’s wholesale adoption of high-tech digital solutions, supported by a substantial digital investment by Norway’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries, in addition to external research grants.
“As we embark on the next stage in this project, we are happy to do so alongside our trusted and long-term partner Kongsberg Maritime,” says the IMR’s CEO, Sissel Rogne. “We are seeing a wide range of changes in our coastal and ocean ecosystems – and these changes happen fast. In response to this, we must streamline and increase our management efforts. To obtain this we need innovative and reliable partners, and the cooperation with Kongsberg Maritime is therefore vital to us. Their USVs and AUVs will initially work alongside our traditional research vessels in an ‘armada strategy,’ but will subsequently operate more independently as we expand our plans.”
“We’re very pleased to have secured this contract with the IMR,” adds Tonny Algrøy, Sales Director, Ocean Science, Kongsberg Maritime. “This delivery builds upon decades of collaborative work with the IMR to create innovative solutions for ocean ecosystem monitoring, and the addition of smart platforms plus a new E-infrastructure solution is a logical next step in this shared history.”
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