New tool to monitor effects of tidal and wave on marine life

Researchers at University of Washington are developing a new underwater robot designed to deploy monitoring instruments to gather information on marine life interactions with underwater equipment used for wave and tidal energy generation.

The robot is named ‘Millennium Falcon’ and its aim is to identify risks that could arise in long-term marine renewables energy projects.

It transports an instruments package, called the Adaptable Monitoring Package, which has a stereo camera to collect photos and videos, a sonar system, hydrophones to hear marine mammal activity, sensors to gauge water quality and speed, a click detector to listen for whales, dolphins and porpoises, and even a device to detect fish tags.

A fiber optic cable connection back to shore allows for real-time monitoring and control, and the device will be powered by a copper wire.

Brian Polagye, a University of Washington assistant professor of mechanical engineering and one of the project’s leaders, said: “This is the first attempt at a ‘plug-and-socket’ instrumentation package in the marine energy field. If successful, it will change the way that industry views the viability of environmental research and development.”

Millenium Falcon 3

The robot fits inside remotely operated vehicle (ROV) that can deploy the instrumentation package at docking station integrated onto a turbine or other subsea infrastructure.

Actuators on the vehicle can attach the monitoring instruments to most types of underwater infrastructure, ranging from tidal turbines to offshore oil and gas rigs. After the instruments are attached, the ‘Millennium Falcon’ can disengage, leaving the instruments in place, and travel back to the water’s surface.

“It could be a first step toward a standardized ‘science port’ for marine energy projects,” Polagye added.

The UW research team tested the Millennium Falcon and the instruments it transports underwater for the first time in January in a deep tank on campus. Researchers will continue testing in Puget Sound under more challenging conditions starting this month.

They hope this tool will be useful for pilot tidal and wave energy projects and eventually in large-scale, commercial renewable-energy projects.

The project is a collaboration between researchers in mechanical engineering, and the Applied Physics Laboratory, a part of Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center.

It is  funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Naval Facilities Engineering Command, the Snohomish County Public Utility District and the UW.

Take a look at the video to learn more about ‘Millenium Falcon’.

Source/Images: UW

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