At UMass Dartmouth's Accelerated Technology Manufacturing Center on Martine Street, OceanServer Technologies CEO Bob Anderson talks about his company's autonomous underwater vehicles, several of which are seen here in the process of being built. Herald News Photo | Jack Foley |
Robot submarines from Massachusetts and Germany are joining the search party halfway around the globe for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Local deepwater search experts have also been asked to lend their knowledge on how robot dive operations are performed as crews continue to narrow down the search in the southern Indian Ocean.
The robots that will scour the seas, aided by sonar technology and digital cameras, are better known as autonomous underwater vehicles, of AUVs.
This week, cable news networks CNN and Fox News aired reports on them. Those broadcasts featured a specific AUV model, the Iver2, a 5-foot-long, 55-pound torpedo-shaped robot designed for waters more shallow than the depths of the Indian Ocean. The Iver2 was built in Fall River by OceanServer Technologies.
The actual robots that will be deployed in the search, potentially more than 20,000 feet below the surface of the ocean, are not as easy to bring into a television news studio as the Iver2. They are much larger and weigh more than 1,000 pounds. But their concepts are “virtually identical,” explained Bob Anderson, OceanServer’s CEO, on Wednesday.
The vessels are deployed underwater and are set on a predetermined course. They use sonar technology to generate images along that course. When those sonar images uncover an anomaly, cameras can then take more detailed photographs. “The industry is almost exclusively in Massachusetts,” Anderson said during a brief tour of OceanServer’s laboratories. Those labs are housed at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth’s Advanced Technology Manufacturing Center on Martine Street.
Two of the vessels that will be deployed were built by Hydroid Inc. of Pocasset and Quincy-based Bluefin Robotics Inc.
Anderson explained that OceanServer’s AUVs are built to search more shallow depths of up to 200 meters. “Most of our technology was developed for the military,” Anderson said, noting that the company’s clients include the U.S. Navy, and oil and natural gas producers.
Those clients use the robots mostly get a topographic sense of an ocean area, Anderson said. The military may also occasionally use them to sweep a spot for mines or other objects that could imperil a ship's passage. “The vehicle is just the right size,” also, to bring into a television studio. The man who demonstrated on air how the vehicles operate also owns Florida-based RV Tiburon, one of OceanServer’s commercial clients. His name is Timothy Taylor.
Anderson said friends have made him aware of the recent broadcasts, which he heard had also been rebroadcast in other countries, including China.
OceanServer’s robots have been used to locate objects missing on the bottoms of oceans and deep lakes, including a long-missing aircraft that predates World War II off the coast of California, shipwrecks in the Great Lakes region, and even a car in South Watuppa Pond that had been reported stolen more than 25 years ago. “We found it, upside down, right in the pond,” Anderson said.
ATMC director Paul Vigeant said OceanServer, which began at the ATMC more than 10 years ago, “is a great example of how an incubator is supposed to work. “They’ve really been a great partner with the university and, for our students, provided internships and hands-on experience. ... It’s exciting for us to see a company start in incubator as a couple of guys and evolve into a thing like this.”
Anderson said he believed it may be a long time before the Boeing 777 jet is recovered. “It’s been said it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack, but you don’t know where the haystack is,” he said. “The tools are limited. It’s a slow process with weather windows. Right now, it’s about to become winter over there.”
Other experts are not expecting a quick recovery either. Oceanographers at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, though not involved in the search for Flight 370, have been acting as consultants because of their experience in locating the wreckage of Air France Flight 447 off the coast of Brazil two years ago.
Woods Hole has been so bombarded with media requests on the subject that a voice-mail greeting on its media phone line said it was no longer accepting requests for interviews. The Institution’s website includes a page on Flight 370: “The fate of Malaysia Airlines flight 370 remains a mystery. Because the search for the airliner has involved searching the ocean, many have turned to those involved in the search for Air France Flight 447 to learn from their experiences in that case and their expertise in detecting objects on the sea floor,” the site states.
External link: http://www.heraldnews.com/article/20140326/NEWS/140326887