Subsea Robotics: Advanced technology in machines empowers human partners

US Navy combat diver, underwater navigation, inertial systems, subsea robotics, sensor fusion, inertial measurement unit
(photo credit U.S. Navy photo by Gunner's Mate 2nd Class Erin Bullock/Released)

The underwater tunnel inspector. The combat swimmer. The port and harbor security officer.

A liquid office environment isn’t the only thing they have in common. As remote and autonomous underwater systems continue to prove themselves reliable, capable, and increasingly affordable, more marine-related commercial industries are following the lead of early military adopters and turning to subsea robotics solutions to help them perform their work.

Key to the success of this relationship between man and machine is sophisticated technology that enables navigation, control, positioning, and tracking.

For example, combat swimmers must carry out complex work while underway, including locating objects with sonar, mapping new routes, changing positions and adjusting payloads. Swimmers rely on propelled transport systems to get where they’re going. Their missions and the environment in which they work demand concentration, which is why the vehicles assisting combat swimmers must enable them to focus on the mission, rather than on controlling the vehicle.

Making Subsea Robotics an Easy-to-Use Reality

Ease of use was a goal of STIDD Systems, Inc., as it partnered with Greensea Systems to enhance and refine combat swimmer navigation and mission management capabilities for its Diver Propulsion Device (DPD).

“The real engineering task was to make this technology user-friendly in a combat diver application,” says Ben Kinnaman, Greensea Systems CEO and President. “This is a familiar theme in robotics, automation and even personal computers that extends back to the advent of modern computer science. Technology has enabled more powerful sensors with new capabilities in smaller sizes. However, we cannot simply focus on making a smarter machine. We have to consider our relationship with it and how we as operators will be affected. How will we use it? How will we communicate with it? How will it serve us? This was the critical issue in adding intelligence to the DPD.”

The successful end result – a user-friendly interface for the handheld RNAV2 navigation system used either with a DPD or alone — embodies the mission of Greensea Technologies. At the core of RNAV2 is a fully integrated navigation solution that includes the versatile KVH 1750 inertial measurement unit, which can be configured to accept data from multiple sensors.

“We focus on developing technology that improves the relationship between man and machine,” says Kinnaman. “We cannot just make smarter machines without addressing the man and his relationship with the machine. Operators have a new language and a new means of communicating with their now-smart co-workers, the vehicle partner. In years past, one of the shortcomings of adding more sensors to miniature subsea robotics has been the bandwidth. It wasn’t until we considered a unified system and broadening the bandwidth of the operator that we could start realizing the full potential of the technology we’re now delivering to these platforms.”

Learn More

As the platforms for operators improve, and the machines become smaller, lighter and smarter, what else lies around the corner? What’s a realistic vision for next-generation miniature subsea robotics, a technology that improves the relationship between man and machine to make the work they do better together – more effective, more efficient, more powerful – and safer?

To find out, listen to “Realizing New Potentials in Miniature Subsea Robotics,” a discussion with Kinnaman and Sean McCormack, Director of FOG & OEM Sales at KVH. They take a close look at how sensor fusion, and the incorporation of inertial units such as those developed by KVH, is integrated into undersea platforms to deliver levels of advanced navigation and automation previously unavailable in GNSS-denied environments.

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About Chris Watson 98 Articles
Chris is the senior director of marketing for KVH Industries. A lifelong sailor and storyteller, he's a self-professed geek who finds all of this technical stuff fascinating.