Autonomous Surface Vessels

The unmanned surface vessel, BenthoScope, is capable of monitoring large areas of shallow reef communities autonomously. Image: S. Bainbridge

AIMS has developed and trialled a prototype unmanned surface vessel – also known as ‘BenthoScope’ - for monitoring shallow coral reef communities and seagrass meadows, and testing new underwater sensors.

Autonomous surface vessels (ASVs) do not require divers and can operate safely in hazardous locations. This enables routine, cost-effective coverage of much larger areas, and the collection of a greater range of information, such as simultaneous imagery and night-time hydrochemistry measurements. The AIMS vessel operates as a tender to our research ships. It can be programmed to transit to a specified location, use its motor to hold position and follow pre-determined survey transects, relaying high-definition data live to scientists.

A view from below: the vertical arm of the ASV can be equipped with a range of sensors. The arm is raised and lowered automatically to maintain a consistent height above the seafloor. Image: S. Bainbridge

Sensors are attached to the end of an extended arm that lies alongside the tender when the vessel is in transit. When monitoring, the arm is raised and lowered vertically into the water. Sonar is used to detect depth, and the arm is automatically adjusted to maintain a consistent height from the seabed. Instruments mounted on the arm include advanced camera systems, lighting, (with UV for night operations), and hydrochemistry sensors. Sonar sensors for navigation and bathymetry mapping are mounted on the vessel. All instruments can be interchanged to suit the monitoring task.

Still photos captured by BenthoScope's cameras can be accurately stitched together during processing to create large images of seafloor environments at high resolutions.