Unmanned Vessels and Submarines
Unmanned maritime systems (UMS) are typically categorized as remotely operate vehicles (ROVs), Unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) and unmanned undersea vehicles (UUVs). Collectively these are being used by many industries from aquaculture to energy and defense. The use of UMS has led to increased safety, decreased costs, and in some cases operations that are otherwise impossible. Here are some of the ways they are being used:
Inspection of undersea structures such as fish farms, piers, ship hulls, oil rigs, and wind turbines is a key mission for UMS. As tethered ROVs with operators in direct control or as UUVs with supervisors overseeing work, these tools provide important data about human infrastructure undersea.
ROVs or UUVs can be operated at extreme depths and can remain underwater for long periods of time and in harsh conditions that would hamper general diving operations. Large ROVs are used for many difficult tasks in the offshore oil and gas and offshore wind industries while smaller ROVs are used in a wide range of industries including aquaculture and wastewater treatment inspection.
Survey of ports and harbors is an important mission for UMS. Both routine surveys and responses to emergency events such as hurricanes are important uses for UMS that help ensure safety of navigation for cargo and passengers.
Underwater surveys are an indispensable part of the data collection process used during maritime infrastructure works. The use of an ROV system for surveying can dramatically reduce inspection costs while eliminating the risks associated with the use of divers to complete the task.
The US Navy is a significant user of UMS. They support key oceanographic assessments for environmental modeling as well as roles such as mine countermeasures and rapid environmental assessment.
Over the next decade sailors should expect to use the underwater robots to bring sonar arrays and mines to the seabed, launch torpedoes or become torpedoes themselves to destroy enemy warships. UUVs of all sizes will be used to fill the gaps in future missions; missions that are too dangerous to put men on or missions that are too mundane and routine, but important, like monitoring.
Conservation is another area where UMS make significant contributions. Marine animals can be tracked and studied while minimizing human contact. Marine protected areas (MPAs) can be monitored for both environmental concerns and prohibited human activity.
UUVs have been used to identify spawning sites for grouper and snapper in the Caribbean to prevent overfishing and to track location changes in species along California’s coast which are helping to reveal impacts from changes in sea temperature, level and acidity.