As we all know, water covers approximately 72% of the Earth’s Surface. Oceans and seas are home to almost 90% of all the known species. The importance of the seas is obvious, given that in the future they will supply a considerable part of human and industrial needs: we will be able to harvest renewable energy from offshore wind farms, as well as collect minerals such as cobalt, nickel and copper; rare earths, silver and gold will be mined from the seafloor. Consequently, new offshore and port infrastructures will need to be built, maintained and repaired.
These infrastructures can be maintained and surveilled thanks to robotics. However, Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) and Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) are made specifically to satisfy the users’ needs, which restrict the reuse of these technologies. This is the reason why most part of subsea or offshore operations are completed by professional divers. These missions are dangerous, the number of divers is limited and their deployment is too expensive for companies. SWARMs project proposes a cost-efficient and safe solution by using autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV) and remotely operated vehicles (ROV) to fulfill these needs.
The main objective of SWARMs project is to facilitate the creation, planning and execution of maritime operations by the use of AUV and ROV. The reason is simple: these missions will be more cost-efficient and the tasks assigned to divers will be safer. These smart technologies will be more accessible to users for two reasons:
1. No specialized vehicles will be needed to complete any mission because AUVs and ROVs will collaborate in their tasks, opening up new applications and ensuring reusability.
2. Thanks to collaboration, the autonomy of AUVs and the usability of ROVs will increase.
The system proposed in SWARMs project will allow the integration of robots from different manufacturers, thus increasing cost-efficiency of AUVs and ROVs, as well as making them accessible for other industries with less financial resources. As a result, SWARMs project is also a way of increasing Europe’s competitiveness in this sector.
Specific objectives have been outlined in order to reach the main goal of SWARMs project. These objectives are:
1. A system to characterize the environment and coordinate the vehicles.
In the first place, SWARMs project proposes a specific system that is able to distribute all the tasks that the vehicles will have to carry out in a specific mission. This system also coordinates AUV and ROV actions. Secondly, thanks to the collaborative actions of the vehicles, they can base on the context to solve problems altogether and increase their autonomy. From the sensors boarded on the AUVs and ROVs, autonomous vehicles can gather information proceeding from different locations, with which the vehicles will create a 3D representation in a collaborative way.
SWARMs project also proposes the development of a set of vision based classification functions in order to recognize some specific objects of interest in the environment.
2. An infrastructure to monitor and control underwater industrial operations
Underwater mission will be based on the available functionalities of the AUV/ROV and SWARMs will create an intermediation layer (Middleware) which will give the vehicles all the knowledge gathered with the different sensors. The Middleware will also act as a support for the collection and transmission of information to the AUV/ROV. The vehicles will be able to take decisions thanks to the development of decision-making and intelligent coordination algorithms. This collaboration will improve the cost-effectiveness of the vehicles, as well as their autonomy. What is more, SWARMs will develop new concepts for the human-machine interfaces and operator assistance functions for those underwater operation that require human intervention.
3. We will explore innovative technologies and improve functioning thanks to this new communication concept
This concept has two different approaches: (1) the use of proven technologies for networked control systems, adapted to low-bandwidth high-latency underwater communications, enabling and improving interoperability in heterogeneous systems including AUVs/ROVs and tele-operation systems of different manufacturers, and (2) employing and improving novel prototypes for point-to-point high-bandwidth communication of operation information such as camera and sonar data, in order to give a better overview of complex operations than what is possible today.
4. Design new operations through a specific methodology
This methodology also incorporates new technologies to verify and validate cooperative functionality, safety and security conditions of SWARMs.
5. Test, validate and demonstrate the correct functioning of SWARMs under extreme conditions in controlled and different scenarios:
- Inspection, maintenance and repair offshore infrastructures.
- Pollution monitoring.
- Offshore construction operations.
These scenarios will be located along the Atlantic Ocean, the Black Sea and the Norwegian coastline. In the following gallery, we show some of SWARMS use cases.
Benefits of collaborative AUV and ROV
SWARMs project will bring cyber physical systems (CPS) to the subsea and offshore sectors and increase their presence in these industries. The success in all of the above objectives will guarantee interoperability, cooperation, reuse and technological improvements. It will also improve safety conditions in underwater operations and impact directly on the cost-effectiveness of AUV/ROV production by increasing interoperability, reaching shorter execution times and increasing competitiveness of the offshore industry. Finally, SWARMs will take advantage of the automatic coordination and exploration of oceans with sensor-boarded AUVs and ROVs in order to understand the resources of the sea.
Due to its unexploited resources, the importance of the ocean is great nowadays. Service robotics is working to reach more sophisticated, autonomous and industrialized solutions with flexible and collaborative systems. SWARMs project aims to integrate different components that can help industries get all these resources in a reliable, safe and cost-effective way. IXION is actively participating in this group, engaged in this project from the beginning.