The Ocean Explorer (OEX) is a sophisticated autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) and one of CMRE’s most valuable assets. Developed at Florida Atlantic University, the OEX has undergone significant modifications at the Centre for use in the antisubmarine warfare programme and other projects.
The OEX is an untethered AUV of 4.5 meters length and a diameter of 0.53 meters (21”). It can operate to a maximum depth of 300 meters. It has a maximum speed through the water when towing the array of 3 knots. Current battery constraints limit the lifetime of any mission to about 7 hours. The OEX is equipped with two independent modems. One of these is aWood Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) modem (Freitag et al., 2005) which was used for communication of data with the command center. The second is an EdgeTech acoustic modem integrated with the vehicle main computer that sends vehicle location information only.
The OEX has a modular design so that it can accommodate a variety of payloads. Once the AUV is launched, it can operate independently. Using onboard equipment, the OEX gathers information in the underwater environment, such as the presence and location of objects of interest.
Researchers at the Centre are currently working to advance the concepts of autonomy and collaboration using the OEX and other autonomous surface and underwater vehicles.
Adaptive Autonomy. Using software developed at the Centre, the AUVs can adapt autonomously to dynamic environmental factors. For example, in surveillance operations, the AUV can find a moving target and stay broadside to it. Or if the target is stationary, the AUV can circle it.
Collaboration. Two AUVs can work together to share information and coordinate their efforts. For this to happen, the Centre is working on developing a more robust communication infrastructure to overcome the challenges of underwater communication. Ultimately a fleet of mobile (AUVs and unmanned surface vehicles) and fixed assets (buoys) could be programmed to collaborate, providing underwater surveillance in shallow nearshore waters.