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World's First Through-Ice Location and Communication System

2nd July 2009 - 10:00 GMT | by The Shephard News Team


Pioneering Scottish communication technology company, Wireless Fibre Systems Ltd (WFS), has joined up with the Norway-headquartered international marine electronics leaders, Kongsberg Maritime, to develop a wireless system for location of and communication with the company’s unmanned underwater vehicles in ice conditions.

The 1.8m€ TILACSys project (Through-Ice Location and Communication System) will run for 24 months and deliver a demonstrator system that will be the world’s first of its kind. It is being supported with investment from the UK’s Technology Strategy Board and the Research Council of Norway.

The use of Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) is growing across the globe, due to their high levels of mobility and flexibility and capability of delivering high quality - and resolution - data from the underwater environment. In polar regions, AUVs offer the added advantage of being able to explore beneath the ice. But today sub-ice AUVs are seldom used because of the risk of loss of vehicle.

Traditionally, underwater connections have been made with AUVs via subsea umbilicals which, in polar regions, are not an option for establishing communications because of the obstacle caused by the ice. Conventional underwater wireless (acoustic) technology will not penetrate ice.  The newly emerging underwater free-space optical systems are not an option either as a light beam will reflect off the surface of the ice. Due to the ice cap, surfacing for satellite communication is not an option.

The TILACSys will enable a surface vessel, a helicopter or an unmanned aerial vehicle to locate and communicate with the AUV through the ice. The system is seen as a key component for de-risking under-ice AUV operations. The resulting increased use of AUVs under ice to successfully collect data will greatly enhance human knowledge about topography, oceanography, marine life and marine systems in arctic areas.

There are three key project objectives:
• Demonstrate through-ice command and control of AUV using low bandwidth modem (Seatext)
• Demonstrate location of AUV under ice using Seatext
• Demonstrate 2-way broadband data-streaming with AUV under ice

Target applications include:
• Environmental monitoring: AUV will deploy sensors under ice and harvest data
• Oil & Gas: monitoring of pipelines and other assets to support primitive condition monitoring and intervention repairs
• Homeland security: monitoring under ice to protect assets

Iain Gray, from the UK’s Technology Strategy Board, one of the two investors in the project said:

“Taking broadband technology into these remote and otherwise inaccessible locations is groundbreaking. We are pleased to have the opportunity to invest in such an innovative project with a potentially global impact on a number of fronts.”

Speaking today Brendan Hyland, CEO of WFS, said:

“We are excited about the collaboration with Kongsberg Maritime and the opportunity to deliver the world’s first through-ice location and communication system onboard a world-class AUV platform. This project reinforces Europe's position in the world as a technological and commercial leader in the field of marine engineering, offshore operations, and telecommunications. Furthermore, it is a great opportunity to put European research at the forefront of Arctic exploration.

“WFS has grown significantly in the last 2 years and our Seatext® and Seatooth® products have started a revolution in oceanography, subsea operations, environmental monitoring and naval communications. This project is the next step in applying those technologies”

Bjorn Jalving, Vice President of Kongsberg Maritime Subsea, AUV Department, commented:

“It is a key strategy for Kongsberg Maritime to adapt its Autonomous Underwater Vehicles to extensive, large area mapping of under ice areas. The basic requirement is robust and well proven vehicles equipped with relevant instrumentation for seabed mapping, oceanography and marine research”.

"Kongsberg Maritime is excited to work with WFS to equip the HUGIN 1000 AUV with a through ice localization and communication system. The reduced risk for loss of vehicle will increase the use of AUVs and expand our knowledge of the virtually unexplored underwater arctic environment”

The Shephard News Team


The Shephard News Team

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