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Autonomous Underwater Vehicles for Subsea Energy Applications

Status: AWARD END DATE: 8/31/2018


Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUV) are now emerging with new capabilities and technologies that can make them more efficient and more cost effective than Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROV). The proposed research is the first phase of an overall program to address some of these technological challenges.  The objective is to develop an AUV prototype that will be highly maneuverable in tight spaces, can hold station vertically, can perform docking, and will be capable of autonomous manipulation.

The program will advance several aspects of AUV technological challenges in autonomy, sensing, and physical capabilities. Specifically, advances will be made in thruster technology and sensing which will enable high maneuverability in tight spaces. The research approach will leverage advances made by the Robotics & Intelligent Systems Lab at Rice University in swimming robotic inspection of above- ground oil storage tanks, and NASA’s robotics, automation, and guidance technologies, and its Neutral Buoyancy Lab infrastructure.

The objective of this initial Phase 1 funding award consists of two levels with a final goal of establishing a future sound and comprehensive program in autonomous AUVs for subsea energy applications with engagement and endorsement of major operators. The specific goals of the project are as follows:

  • Program 1: Organize a workshop to engage industry in overviewing the state of the art of AUV technology and build a collaborative relationship with operators in subsea energy applications to define the new challenges of subsea AUVs. The objective is to identify the end user mission requirements, the status of AUV research and technology development within industry and the target areas for defining the future research objectives for this project.
  • Program 2: Build an updated, more functional and more robust version of the Rice University RiSYS Lab swimming robot prototype shown below to be tested at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Lab. In Phase 1 of the project, the robot’s hydrodynamic shape (referred to as Problem 1 in original proposal document), thrusters and their configurations (Problem 2 in original proposal document), and design of new bidirectional thrusters (Problem 3 in original proposal document) will not be addressed. This grant funding will be used to build one (1), updated AUV prototype from the existing unit.