Crewmembers aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Healy retrieve the glider unit of a Wave Glider Unmanned Surface Vehicle from the ocean during an oil in ice exercise in the Arctic Aug. 21, 2014. The Wave Glider's glider unit can propel the device thousands of miles through the ocean using wave motion as its only power source. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Shawn Eggert.
AT SEA - In order to expand its presence and understanding of the Arctic, the Coast Guard and its partners evaluated the capabilities of a variety of technologies during the Coast Guard Research and Development Center’s journey aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Healy. Several unmanned systems were deployed into the air and below the waves of the ice-filled Arctic Ocean, but the RDC, along with their colleagues from the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, weren’t about to forget the value of monitoring the ocean’s surface as well.
The RDC and SPAWAR partnered to deploy a Wave Glider SV2 Unmanned Surface Vehicle to monitor ice and weather conditions during their Oil in Ice Project exercise. The Wave Glider is just one of many USVs with the potential to serve the Coast Guard in the Arctic. “This USV is an autonomous marine robot that uses a glider, which hangs beneath the surface of the water, to propel the unit using only the ocean’s waves,” said Brian Dolph, a surface branch project lead for the RDC traveling aboard the Healy. “Because of this design, the Wave Glider can operate for very long periods of time and travel thousands of miles with no other power source.”
The Wave Glider SV2’s glider unit operates similarly to a whale’s tail, using currents below the water’s surface to push the device forward along a path programmed into its hardware by the user. A solar-charged battery within the USV powers the Wave Glider’s sensors which can be modified based on its mission. Due to the efficiency of its design, the device is versatile, easy to deploy and cost-effective. “We deployed the Wave Glider to record data and monitor the movement of ice which would be useful information for responders during an oil spill in the ice, but the USV can be outfitted with cameras or other types of sensor payloads depending on its task,” said Carlos Fierro, a SPAWAR representative traveling aboard the Healy. “USVs like the Wave Glider have the potential to be used for surveillance of exclusive economic zones or tracking vessel traffic through the Arctic as well.”
Like many of the technologies evaluated during the summer exercise aboard the Healy, the USV encountered its share of adversity. Limited solar flux, possibly due to the high latitude of the exercise, caused some power issues with the Wave Glider’s sensors, but researchers were satisfied with the overall performance of the device and suggested further testing of USV capabilities may be conducted in the future.
“Despite the few problems we encountered, we received a lot of useful data from the USV’s sensors and we were able to operate the Wave Glider for six days in open water, four days past what we had originally planned,” said Dolph. “The Coast Guard is a versatile service and we’ll need versatile equipment to enhance our operations as we expand our presence in the Arctic. USV technology may provide some of that multi-mission utility.”