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Remote-Operated Survey Vessel Returns Home After 22 Days at Sea

Michael Behr

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remote-operated vessel

SEA-KIT International’s unmanned vessel will help prove the capability of beyond-the-horizon remote survey work.

A remote-operated boat has completed 22 days of unmanned operations in the Atlantic Ocean, the vessel’s creator and operator SEA-KIT International has announced.

The offshore exploration vessel, the SEA-KIT Uncrewed Surface Vessel (USV) Maxlimer, was launched from Plymouth in late July and operated in the Atlantic 460 km south west of Cornwall. The ship returned on August 17 after surveying around 1,000 sq km of seabed.

The ship was controlled remotely via satellite from shore at SEA-KIT’s base in Tollesbury as part of the round-the-clock work.

The vessel used a multi-beam echo-sounder attached to its hull to map the continental shelf at depths of up to a kilometre. This region has had little modern mapping work done, with virtually no up to date data registered with the UK Hydrographic Office.

“The project has proven the capabilities of SEA-KIT’s USV design, namely long endurance, over-the-horizon capability and ocean-going ability,” the company said.

“With its project partners, SEA-KIT has also demonstrated the ability to conduct remote survey operations with safe control of the USV via satellite communications from anywhere in the world.”

The operation was part of SEA-KIT’s Uncrewed Trans-Atlantic Survey (UTAS) Project. This aims to prove that current technologies have the capacity to perform remote-operated survey work on unexplored or inadequately surveyed ocean frontiers.

“Many of the earth’s ocean floors remain unmapped due to the immense challenges and costs faced in trying to reach them,” the company stated.

Part of this project also involves SEA-KIT proving that true over-the-horizon survey capability is possible for remote operations. The capacity for remote-controlled vessels to work safely beyond the line of sight from a support vessel or onshore facility promises a major leap forward for remote survey work. Removing the need for costly support vessels and crew will make offshore surveys cheaper and safer.

Maxlimer uses a communications and control system called Global Situational Awareness, which is used via the internet. By linking to three independent satellite systems, onshore operators can remotely access CCTV footage, thermal imaging and radar from the vessel.

“Through the use of a remotely-controlled USV as a mother ship for other remote vehicles, such as AUVs (Autonomous Underwater Vehicles) and ROVs (Remotely Operated Vehicles), the UTAS mission demonstrates the ability to conduct remote survey operations as well as USV endurance and true ocean-going capabilities,” the company said.

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The project originally envisioned sending the Maxlimer across the Atlantic to America. However, this operation was delayed due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of uncrewed vessels, both now and in the future, to ensure that vital operations can continue in a socially-distanced and controlled way, something that would be very challenging within the confines of a crewed vessel,” the company added.

The European Space Agency provided part of the funding for the mission.

SEA-KIT creates remote-operated USVs for a variety of applications example oil and gas, offshore renewable energy, security and surveillance, environmental survey, marine mammal observation, scientific research and for the ocean mapping community. The company recently signed a deal with surveying company Fugro for two of SEA-KIT’s X class USVs.

The USV Maxlimer was originally developed to compete for the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE, which it won.

Michael Behr

Senior Staff Writer

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