During the week from 22 to 27 July 2013, tomorrow’s underwater robots were tested at the European Centre of Underwater Technologies, located at Ifremer, the French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea, near Toulon in southern France. The tests were carried out by research engineers in the scope of a four-year research programme named MORPH (Marine Robotic System of Self-Organising, Logically Linked Physical Nodes).
The tests were focused on the integration and cooperative operation of multiple heterogeneous marine vehicles, perhaps the world's most advanced fleet of surface and underwater drones.
These marine robots have been developed with teamwork in mind. Without any physical interconnection among them, they constantly communicate with each other and sense their relative positions via a sophisticated acoustic communication and ranging network. In parallel, they share useful data acquired with dedicated sensors. The new robotic concept at the core of the MORPH project will lead to efficient methods to map the underwater environment with great accuracy in situations that defy existing technology. Namely, underwater surveys over rugged terrain and structures with full 3D complexity such as those occurring near underwater cliffs.
A large number of field applications are envisioned: harbour protection, monitoring of industrial infrastructures (e.g., offshore wind power installations and pipelines), sea mine detection, habitat mapping and environmental monitoring, and exploration of marine resources.
32 researchers from five countries and 9 member organisations participated in the trials: Atlas Elektronik (Germany), Ifremer (France), Jacobs University Bremen (Germany), Ilmenau University of Technology (Germany), Universitat de Girona – Computer Vision and Robotics Research Institute (Spain), IMAR (Institute of Marine Research Portugal), NATO Centre for Maritime Research and Experimentation (based in La Spezia, Italy), Instituto Superior Tecnico (IST Portugal), Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche - Istituto di Studi sui Sistemi Intelligenti per l'Automazione (CNR-ISSIA, Italy).
Launched in February 2012, MORPH is funded by the European Commission with a budget of EUR8.5 million.