Oceanalpha, a developer of Unmanned Surface Vehicle (USV) platforms, has confirmed that the M80B USV is conducting research in remote areas of the South Pole, as part of China’s 34th Antarctic Scientific Expedition which began in November 2017.
The M80B multibeam echo sounder USV, jointly developed by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy Surveying and Mapping Institute, the State Oceanic Administration South China Sea Survey Technology Center and Oceanalpha, has been carrying out water depth surveying work, along with the BNSK polar scientific research ship.
The harsh climatic conditions of this complex and diverse marine environment is challenging and risky for manned surveying boats, but an ideal task for unmanned vessels. The M80B USV is designed for seafloor exploration missions, and can be equipped with a single-beam echo sounder, multi-wave sounding system, side scan sonar, forward looking sonar, ADCP and other acoustic detection equipment. It can also carry magnetic detectors, mobile laser scanners, multi-parameter water quality instruments and other equipment. Measuring 5.65 meters long and 2.4 meters wide, it has an endurance of over 100 nautical miles and a maximum payload weight of 150 kilograms.
On December 8 2017, the M80B USV conducted a 14 hour mission in the sea around Nanyan Island and completed a multibeam full-coverage seafloor topographic survey in an area of five square kilometers. The mission has provided previously unrecorded data for the region, generating basic spatial and geospatial data for ship navigation and the construction of new station.
According to Pu Jinjing, Director of Marine Technology Applications at Oceanalpha, the M80B was designed with consideration to the principle, structure and working condition requirements of various types of tasks. Innovation led to a series of technological breakthroughs, resulting in the USV having a Trimaran (triple-hulled) design. He commented, “It has excellent performance in terms of stability and wave resistance. At the same time, it adopts a specially designed “wave-type” of bow bulb, which can not only effectively reduce longitudinal slips of the ship, but also help to reduce the water spray caused by it when sailing and can better ensure the quality of measurement data.”
The wave-piercing design not only allows the USV to navigate stably, but also helps to ensure surveying data veracity by reducing the amount of water and air bubbles generated during voyage and interference of the acoustic detection equipment in the hull.
“The Antarctic is a low-temperature environment where the mechanical properties of the hull material may change, the GNSS signal is weak, and the electronic components also have an impact.” Pu Jinjing said. In order to ensure that the M80B can perform the mission, the project team engineers have undertaken significant research into the hull structural strength, power system selection and selection of electronic components.
He continued, “For example, we designed the bow of the ship to facilitate the launch and recovery. We installed the GNSS antenna mounting base in order to weaken the multipath effect at sea”.