The Australian Maritime College (AMC) at the University of Tasmania says its new $5 million autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) is gearing up for the start of its operations in Antarctica in late 2018 with a diverse series of missions that will also serve to highlight the utility of the asset.
Officially launched in August, the AUV, named nupiri muka, is on display on board AMC’s flagship training vessel MV Bluefin moored alongside the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney as part of PACIFIC 2017.
So far in its short history, nupiri muka has been deployed on a number of trials in Tasmania in the Tamar River, with further missions planed in the lead-up to start of its work in Antarctica.
“We have a whole load of missions planned to train our operators and to get used to its operation before we take it to Antarctica in the summer season of next year,” AMC principal Professor Neil Bose said on Tuesday.
“We have got a number of different missions planned, most of which are science missions.
“Some of the missions we’ve done already are important in their own right, such as taking seabed measurements from certain areas and so on.”
The AUV was funded through the Antarctic Gateway Partnership, an initiative of the Australian Research Council, through the University of Tasmania’s Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies. It was manufactured by Canadian-based International Submarine Engineering (ISE).
Powered by rechargeable lithium ion batteries, the untethered AUV has a range of about 150km, with plans to add another module that would double the range to 300km. It is capable of going up to 5,000m under water and operating underneath the ice.
In addition to the standard conductivity, temperature and depth sensors, the vehicle is currently equipped with a multibeam echosounder, side-scan sonar and sub bottom profiler.
Prof Bose said the AUV could also potentially fit more sensors, including a camera for visual images, if required.
“In one sense it’s like a pickup truck, you can put on different sensors,” Prof Bose said.
“There’s lots of things you can do with the vehicle.”
While its primary mission is for Antarctic research, that flexibility is important as AMC looks to industry to increase the range of potential applications for the vehicle.
“We try and use it for multiple things because not all of its operating expense and the personnel we need to keep running it can be paid for out of one project,” Prof Bose said.
“It’s an asset to do science, to do work with industry, to do work in all kinds of areas. For anyone who wants to use it, we’re open to a discussion.”
One such area AMC is exploring in partnership with the University of Western Australia is to use the AUV to do environmental monitoring around decommissioned offshore oil and gas platforms.
It is also similar to the vehicles that could be used on any resumption on the search for missing Malaysia Airlines jet MH370.
“We can also survey pipelines for maintenance purposes,” Prof Bose added.
Although part of the University of Tasmania, Launceston-based AMC sets its own curriculum and has an independent board.
Delegates at PACIFIC 2017 can visit nupiri muka, which means “Eye of the Sea” in palawa kani, the language of Tasmanian Aborigines, over the next two days. Visiting times and details are available at the AMC stand in the exhibition hall.