A researcher at the University of Victoria has joined Parks Canada's search for Sir John Franklin's lost ships HMS Terror and HMS Erebus. Alison Proctor, a graduate student and research engineer, set off Tuesday for King William Island in Nunavut. Proctor is taking with her a remotely operated underwater vehicle. She will control the submersible from the search vessel, the Sir Wilfred Laurier, via a long cable.
The search, which involves archaeologists working with the Canadian Hydrographic Service, is moving north, from O'Reilly Island to Victoria Strait, the presumed site of one of the ships. It is UVic's first time helping with the search, and Parks Canada's third attempt to find the ships that mysteriously disappeared in 1845.
Sir John Franklin and 128 crew members were on a three-year mission to explore the Northwest Passage and find a safe route between Europe and the Orient, but disappeared 18 months into their voyage. "Parks Canada brought us on to help bring new technology to the search," said Proctor.
In the future, UVic Ocean Technology Lab's autonomous underwater vehicle, which works without a pilot, will allow the team to cover a wider area. Delays with instrumentation prevented the AUV from being used in the search this year. "It autonomously flies around underwater and collects data, returns to the surface and hands all the data over to us to process," said Proctor. "So it's a much more efficient way of collecting data than the usual method of having a person actually flying a vehicle."
Many people see the AUVs as robots replacing humans, said Proctor. But if the AUV joins the search next year, so will a bigger crew. "We'll probably have a larger team next year because when the AUV is fully operational, we'll have a much more rigorous schedule so we'll need more people to implement it," said Proctor.
The UVic Ocean Technology Lab worked with U.S. company Bluefin Robotics to design the Bluefin-12 AUV. Western Economic Diversification Canada gave $800,000 to fund the purchase.
Pilotless vehicles are becoming more prominent in many offshore industries, said Proctor, so they're slowly starting to put remotely operated underwater vehicles out of work. "I actually enjoy working with the AUV and it requires some handling so I'm not totally out of a job. I'm happy to do either one and definitely the AUV is a far more effective tool."