Bluefin Robotics’ newest “micro”-AUV – the SandShark – is now available, offering superior surveying from a package that fits in a backpack.
Smaller, quicker, capable of working for longer, all at a lower cost – such are the demands of the subsea industry of its ROVs and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs). Luckily, plenty of innovators and their innovations are up to the challenge.
One of the latest to hit the market is the Bluefin SandShark. The diminutive vehicle is more portable than its siblings in the existing Bluefin range, and makes full use of the advances in miniaturised sensors and control systems. Its tail section weighs just 11 lbs (5 kg) and measures about 20 inches (500 mm), with a diameter of just over 120 mm, meaning the whole craft should fit in the average backpack. Matt Graziano, business segment director for Autonomous Undersea Systems, Maritime and Strategic Systems line of business within General Dynamics Mission Systems – the firm which acquired Massachusetts-based Bluefin around a year ago – told InnovOil: “SandShark was born out of a DARPA programme called ADAPT. The initiative of the DARPA ADAPT program was to create multiple platform reference designs, including an AUV, a quadcopter and a fixed-wing UAV, with the goal of encouraging and aiding in the rapid development of new technology. The Bluefin SandShark™ was developed through the ADAPT programme to be an open-source, low-logistics, mission-flexible AUV platform.”
Ready for launch
The low weight of the Sandshark means that, unlike its larger kin, it is launchable by one person – ideal for smaller inspections or survey areas where larger craft might not be cost-effective. It is rated to a depth of 200 metres (650 feet), at a speed of 2-5 knots. The standard tail section houses all the vehicle systems, including an in-built 266Wh, UN38.3-certified li-ion battery. The modular payload section is fully customisable depending on application. A variety of sensor packages can be used, taking the section from the standard 23 inches (580 mm) up to a maximum of 60 inches (1,520 mm). Graziano added: “A side scan payload and a Doppler Velocity Logger are slated for design/integration in the Bluefin SandShark™ in the first half of 2017. Other payloads will be developed as customer needs arise, and the ease of sensor integration into an empty payload section puts virtually any sensor in the industry within reach.” Bluefin also notes that changing and reconfiguring the payload section can be performed without specialised tools, meaning users can create and test other small, low-power sensors and other capabilities as needed. In addition to active roll control, the AUV navigates via in-built GPS, a 9-axis inertial measurement unit (IMU), depth sensor and altimeter with the option of a Doppler velocity log (DVL). Meanwhile, the Bluefin autonomy software behind it is designed for ease of use in mind, integrating with suites such as ROS, MOAA, JAUS, MOOS and LCM, as well as others.
Bluefin has also looked at new methods of deployment that increased autonomy offers – most notably the ability to deploy a Sandshark from larger vehicles. Graziano explained: “Rather than one or more operators per vehicle, advances in autonomy are enabling systems of multiple platforms to solve complex missions, with greater and greater separation from the operator. GDMS demonstrated this at the Annual Naval Technology Exercise (ANTX) in August 2016, when a 21-inch [533-mm] Bluefin AUV was launched from a host vessel and ingressed to another location representing a mission theatre. Four Bluefin SandSharks were launched from the Bluefin 21, surfaced, and communicated status and image snippets to an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The UAV relayed the data to a shore station simulating a US Navy submarine, and then relayed commands from the shore station back to the Bluefin SandShark.” The release of the Sandshark would also appear to cement GDMS’ strategy in acquiring Bluefin, as it seeks to add new options to its unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) provision, especially for military applications. At the time GDMS president Chris Marzilli president stated: “We have long specialised in many of the technologies that are making UUVs increasingly effective, and have strong credentials integrating UUVs into naval platforms. With the added capability to design and manufacture UUVs, combined with our commitment to speeding innovation to our customers, this acquisition positions us well to further support our US Navy customers.”