New research project to reinforce use of AUVs in seabed monitoring

Spanish autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) designer IQUA Robotics and partners are jointly carrying out a project named Platform for Long-lasting Observation of Marine Ecosystems (PLOME), aiming to develop an underwater platform to intelligently monitor marine ecosystems in real time.

Courtesy of IQUA Robotics

Specifically, the project proposes to develop a set of independent systems consisting of fixed stations that remain on the seabed, submarine vehicles and surface vehicles that work together and autonomously to collect data.

All systems have batteries and communication systems while underwater vehicles can be parked to charge batteries and surface vehicles can work by extracting energy from the environment.

As explained, the set of systems constitutes a non-invasive, modular platform that can monitor an area for several weeks, and up to a month, without the need for human intervention.

Once collected, the systems are maintained, data is extracted, batteries are charged, and the platform can be deployed again so that monitoring can continue in another area.

Over the course of three years, three experiments will be carried out in different places on the Catalan coast as part of the PLOME project.

The first experiment will take place in 2023 on the coast of Sant Feliu de Guíxols and it will be the first time that the technologies developed will work together to obtain data from the seabed.

During 2024, two final experiments of the project will be carried out with the first consisting of a deep validation, between 300 and 500 metres, in a protected area of real fishing near the city of Barcelona, by means of an oceanographic boat. In this experiment the monitoring systems will be validated in real conditions for several days, supervising and operating the systems from the ship.

The final experiment will be carried out on the coast of Vilanova i la Geltrú, and will consist of validating all the systems at shallow depth for over a week without interruption. The platform will be connected to the OBSEA marine observatory, and this will allow real-time monitoring of all systems to verify that they are working properly.

The PLOME project has a budget of €1.5 million from funds from the Spanish Research Agency and the European funds Next Generation.

In addition to IQUA Robotics, the project partners include the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya · BarcelonaTech (UPC), the Universitat de les Illes Balears (UIB), the Universitat Politècnica de Madrid (UPM), and the Institut de Ciències del Mar (ICM-CSIC).

For this project, IQUA Robotics will develop mapping algorithms based on data acquired with lasers, camcorders and acoustic cameras while the ICM is the partner responsible for calculating ecological indicators as a synthetic metric for the health and recovery of marine ecosystems.

The UIB will contribute through the generation and implementation of artificial intelligence algorithms for the analysis of images obtained by the cameras on board the platforms, both in autonomous vehicles and in the fixed stations. The aim is the detection, identification, cutting and quantification of different marine species.

UPM will focus on the management of acoustic submarine communications and satellite and/or GSM communications.

Finally, the Centre de Desenvolupament de Sistemes d’Adquisició Remota i Tractament de la Informació (SARTI-UPC) will assist with the design of fixed seabed observation stations.

“With PLOME we want to consolidate the use of autonomous submarine vehicles as a tool for observing the seabed that does not require a whole human team and an infrastructure dedicated to the time it is used”, said the researcher of the research group in Computer Vision and Robotics (VICOROB) at the UdG and project coordinator, Marc Carreras.

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