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USCG Tests Unmanned Vehicles in Arctic

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Coast Guard Research and Development Center Conducts Analysis of Remotely Operated Vehicles During Arctic Mission

(Source; US Coast Guard; issued Aug. 24, 2014)

AT SEA --- Being a multi-mission agency with a diverse range of responsibilities, the Coast Guard relies on a wide variety of technologies to do its job. The Coast Guard Research and Development Center evaluated the capabilities of many new technologies for Coast Guard use during its trip to the Arctic aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Healy this summer, but there was at least one device with which the Coast Guard was intimately familiar.

Remotely Operated Vehicles have been used by the Coast Guard for years as diver-replacement tools. The submersible devices are often used for hull inspections, pollution monitoring and the retrieval of objects on the ocean floor, but the Coast Guard has rarely deployed ROVs to the freezing waters north of Alaska. In their ongoing quest to identify technologies for Coast Guard use in the increasingly busy Arctic, the RDC brought not one, but three readily available models for comparative analysis to determine which characteristics are most desirable for an ROV in such an extreme environment.

“Last year, we brought one ROV to test in the ice edge and we had some mixed success with its ability to handle the conditions,” said Jay Carey, ROV project lead for the RDC traveling aboard the Healy. “We wound up with more questions than answers so this year, we brought a model the Coast Guard regularly uses and two larger models to compare their different capabilities against one another in response to a simulated oil spill in the ice.”

Each of the ROV models tested during this year’s exercise featured a few common elements including tethered control and state-of-the-art camera and lighting equipment, but they ranged in size from 10-40 pounds and each used a slightly different means of propulsion through the water. Researchers hoped these differences would help them distinguish the best design characteristics for circumventing challenges they encountered in 2013 with high-humidity conditions in the ROV’s pressure hull, tether pull caused by ice floes and power loss.

“The biggest obstacle we encountered this year was water current,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Adonis Kazouris, an ROV operator from Coast Guard Regional Dive Locker San Diego traveling aboard the Healy. “The ROVs do a great job when the current conditions are within their limitations, but even the largest model ROV had difficulty with the strong currents we encountered.”

The three ROVs operated during the exercise were used in conjunction with an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle, a similar technology that uses a self-guided submersible device to map the ocean using sonar. While the two vehicles may seem capable of the same job, the ROVs possess some distinct qualities that set the two apart while not invalidating the use of the AUV.

“The strength of the ROV lies in its utility, ease of operation and ability to provide live imagery of an area within its immediate surroundings,” said Carey. “ROVs have already proven to be effective in other Coast Guard operations, but every technology we tested has a role to play in contributing to the mission of protecting America’s Arctic waters.” (ends)

Coast Guard Research and Development Center Deploys Unmanned Surface Vehicle During Arctic Exercise


AT SEA --- In order to expand its presence and understanding of the Arctic, the Coast Guard and its partners evaluated the capabilities of a variety of technologies during the Coast Guard Research and Development Center’s journey aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Healy.

Several unmanned systems were deployed into the air and below the waves of the ice-filled Arctic Ocean, but the RDC, along with their colleagues from the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, weren’t about to forget the value of monitoring the ocean’s surface as well.

The RDC and SPAWAR partnered to deploy a Wave Glider SV2 Unmanned Surface Vehicle to monitor ice and weather conditions during their Oil in Ice Project exercise. The Wave Glider is just one of many USVs with the potential to serve the Coast Guard in the Arctic.

“This USV is an autonomous marine robot that uses a glider, which hangs beneath the surface of the water, to propel the unit using only the ocean’s waves,” said Brian Dolph, a surface branch project lead for the RDC traveling aboard the Healy. “Because of this design, the Wave Glider can operate for very long periods of time and travel thousands of miles with no other power source.”

The Wave Glider SV2’s glider unit operates similarly to a whale’s tail, using currents below the water’s surface to push the device forward along a path programmed into its hardware by the user. A solar-charged battery within the USV powers the Wave Glider’s sensors which can be modified based on its mission. Due to the efficiency of its design, the device is versatile, easy to deploy and cost-effective.

“We deployed the Wave Glider to record data and monitor the movement of ice which would be useful information for responders during an oil spill in the ice, but the USV can be outfitted with cameras or other types of sensor payloads depending on its task,” said Carlos Fierro, a SPAWAR representative traveling aboard the Healy. “USVs like the Wave Glider have the potential to be used for surveillance of exclusive economic zones or tracking vessel traffic through the Arctic as well.”

Like many of the technologies evaluated during the summer exercise aboard the Healy, the USV encountered its share of adversity. Limited solar flux, possibly due to the high latitude of the exercise, caused some power issues with the Wave Glider’s sensors, but researchers were satisfied with the overall performance of the device and suggested further testing of USV capabilities may be conducted in the future.

“Despite the few problems we encountered, we received a lot of useful data from the USV’s sensors and we were able to operate the Wave Glider for six days in open water, four days past what we had originally planned,” said Dolph. “The Coast Guard is a versatile service and we’ll need versatile equipment to enhance our operations as we expand our presence in the Arctic. USV technology may provide some of that multi-mission utility.”