A serious issue experts from both academia and industry are discussion, is the power supply of unmanned marine vessels. Electric engines seem to be the norm, given that it features both low noise and little or no pollution. Nevertheless, storing electric energy generated by batteries is not only expensive, it also takes valuable space within the vessels.
Numerous groundbreaking developments were unveiled at last week’s annual conference on marine robotics, held under the auspices of Haifa University’s Leon H. Charney School of Marine Sciences and the Israeli chapter of AUVSI, the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems.
The iHLS Newsdesk is shedding more light on this issue of the power supply of Unmanned Surface Vessels (USVs) and Unmanned Underwater Vessels (UUVs):
Eng. Emanuel Liban, Engineers’ Association Chair, envisions a vessels capable of travelling hundreds or thousands of miles without any external artificial energy source. The idea is to propel the vessel using wave movement, which powers a mechanism which generates power for an electric engine.
Doctoral student Shani Elizur, Technion, is working on a new technology designed to generate and store electric energy using the chemical reaction between aluminum and water and exploiting the hydrogen generated during this process to power the vessels engine directly. This technology has already been proving by a model boat and a model vehicle that were successfully powered using this method. The researchers are currently working on commercializing the proven technology into a product.
Another future direction for USVs and UUVs is operating in swarms:
Prof. Hugo Guterman of Ben Gurion University is developing a technology to foster Marine Cooperation of Autonomous Swarms – communication systems between robots and various propulsion methods. In the framework of the study, Prof. Guterman constructed three models: a kayak, an unmanned submarine called Blue Fin and a vessel called Hydro-Camel, which is equipped with robotic arm designed to carry out underwater works. These three systems were linked together using one common comm system, and have already simulated works on oil and gas pipes. The team from Ben Gurion is scheduled to take part in a UUV contest at NATO’s headquarters in Italy at the end of 2015.
Eyal Shahrabani from IAI envisions 20 USVs carrying out missions jointly thereby replacing one major missile boat. Even today, the basis and the technology already exist to enable deployment and operation of USVs and UUVs as far as communication and interfacing between them is concerned, as well as the variety of software, hardware and sensors required for this purpose.
All the figures involved in the Israeli field of unmanned marine vessels are of the same opinion that such systems will be integrated in the framework of both military and civilian systems. Nevertheless, there are several barriers to a more rapid development, such as sensors enabling a greater level of vessel autonomy. Some of these sensors are not yet suitable for naval operations.
Another hurdle is posed by the psychological barrier typical of navies worldwide. It would take a real change in naval approach to operate a vessel without a person piloting it at sea or under water. As one of the participants at the conference in Haifa said: “ultimately, you want to see an admiral at the helm of the biggest ship around.”