Marine robotics technology spotlighted amid search for missing Malaysia Airlines plane

Robot submarines from Massachusetts and Germany are joining the search party halfway around the globe for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

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In Pictures: AUV model, the Iver2, a 5-foot-long, 55-pound torpedo-shaped robot)
Local deep water search experts have also been asked to lend their knowledge on how robot dive operations are performed as crews continue to narrow down the search in the southern Indian Ocean.
The robots that will scour the seas, aided by sonar technology and digital cameras, are better known as autonomous underwater vehicles, of AUVs.

This week, cable news networks CNN and Fox News aired reports on them. Those broadcasts featured a specific AUV model, the Iver2, a 5-foot-long, 55-pound torpedo-shaped robot designed for waters more shallow than the depths of the Indian Ocean. The Iver2 was built in Fall River by OceanServer Technologies.

The actual robots that will be deployed in the search, potentially more than 20,000 feet below the surface of the ocean, are not as easy to bring into a television news studio as the Iver2. They are much larger and weigh more than 1,000 pounds.

But their concepts are “virtually identical,” explained Bob Anderson, OceanServer’s CEO, on Wednesday.

The vessels are deployed underwater and are set on a predetermined course. They use sonar technology to generate images along that course. When those sonar images uncover an anomaly, cameras can then take more detailed photographs.

“The industry is almost exclusively in Massachusetts,” Anderson said during a brief tour of OceanServer’s laboratories. Those labs are housed at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth’s Advanced Technology Manufacturing Center on Martine Street.

Two of the vessels that will be deployed were built by Hydroid Inc. of Pocasset and Quincy-based Bluefin Robotics Inc.

Anderson explained that OceanServer’s AUVs are built to search more shallow depths of up to 200 meters.

“Most of our technology was developed for the military,” Anderson said, noting that the company’s clients include the U.S. Navy, and oil and natural gas producers.

Those clients use the robots mostly get a topographic sense of an ocean area, Anderson said. The military may also occasionally use them to sweep a spot for mines or other objects that could imperil a ship's passage.

“The vehicle is just the right size,” also, to bring into a television studio. The man who demonstrated on air how the vehicles operate also owns Florida-based RV Tiburon, one of OceanServer’s commercial clients. His name is Timothy Taylor.

Anderson said friends have made him aware of the recent broadcasts, which he heard had also been rebroadcast in other countries, including China.

Ocean Server’s robots have been used to locate objects missing on the bottoms of oceans and deep lakes, including a long-missing aircraft that pre-dates World War II off the coast of California, shipwrecks in the Great Lakes region, and even a car in South Watuppa Pond that had been reported stolen more than 25 years ago.

Source: heraldnews


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