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Oceanography major, MIDN 1/C Laboy, works on the ASV with Dr. Steve Ackleson of the Naval Research Lab.

Autonomous surface vehicle demonstrates utility in shallow water environments

  POSTED ON: Wednesday, March 8, 2017 2:30 PM by MIDN 1/C Bryan Laboy, Alexander Davies, Andrew Keppel, and Luis Rodriguez

In February 2017, midshipmen, faculty, and staff from the U.S. Naval Academy (USNA) Oceanography Department traveled to Kaneohe Bay, HI with researchers from the Remote Sensing Division of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) to work on a field study as part of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)-sponsored Hyperspectral Infrared Imager (HyspIRI) mission. The overarching goal of the HyspIRI mission is to develop new scientific applications and products that can be derived from visible to short-wavelength infrared and thermal infrared electromagnetic radiation.

The USNA Oceanography Department’s role in the project was to develop, test, and utilize an autonomous surface vehicle (ASV) to map shallow coral reef ecosystems and provide a reliable deployment platform for additional instruments. Participants from the USNA Oceanography Department included MIDN 1/C Bryan Laboy, MIDN 1/C Michael Madigan, Dr. Joseph Smith, and Mr. Luis Rodriguez. The figure below shows MIDN 1/C Laboy (right), MIDN 1/C Michael Madigan (left) and Dr. Joseph Smith (left rear) working on the ASV prior to deployment.

USNA Oceanography Department Team working on ASV

The original ASV was a surface craft for oceanographic and undersea testing (SCOUT) kayak built by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for the Office of Naval Research. Midshipmen and faculty in the USNA Oceanography Department updated the system in partnership with the Robotics Discovery Laboratories at the University of Delaware to use conventional, off the shelf systems and affordable control software. The ASV was outfitted with a Lowrance StructureScan 3D sidescan sonar that measured water depth and mapped the coral reefs in Kaneohe Bay, HI. During the reef mapping deployments, the ASV also towed a Hyper-Pro sled which measured the optical properties of the water column. Dr. Ackleson of the Remote Sensing Division at NRL (Principle Investigator) deployed the Hyper-Pro sled to investigate the viability of the instrument as a means to assess coral reef health.

Overall, the ASV performed well and demonstrated that it is a reliable platform. The vehicle had a low enough draft to allow for safe passage through shallow environments (e.g. the coral reef in Kaneohe Bay, HI). The ASV could expand coastal ocean and littoral monitoring capabilities because shallow water environments are often inaccessible by underwater autonomous systems or traditional research vessels. Data derived from USNA participation in the NRL NASA-sponsored HyspIRI mission will form the basis of MIDN 1/C Laboy’s Independent Research Project entitled, “Mapping of Coastal Reef Systems Using an Autonomous Surface Kayak” and will also provide data for MIDN 1/C Madigan’s Capstone Paper on identifying water mass sources in coastal systems using remote sensing of ocean color.  The figure below show a visible image of the coral reef in Kaneohe Bay on Google Earth (top) with an overlay of the water depth measured by the ASV (bottom).

Reef Depth Results

Dr. Joseph Smith of the USNA Oceanography Department contributed to this article. All data and pictures are courtesy of Dr. Joseph Smith.

Category: General Interest

Press Contact

Alexander R. Davies
USNA Oceanography Department