Autonomous boats and underwater vehicles are being developed by Associate Professor Sammut in a research pod next to the University’s Tonsley campus in order to undertake hazardous missions and also routine tasks without having to have any humans on board.
The team’s latest project is the development of an autonomous boat, using a catamaran donated by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International and the US Office of Naval Research, for the team’s entry in the Maritime RobotX Challenge. The vessel has been equipped with an assortment of navigational and propulsion systems that will enable the craft to follow pre-set navigational coordinates and autonomously adjust to currents, wind and waves.
“Autonomous boats are better placed to carry out long, precise and often tedious marine searches and surveys than boats driven by humans,” Associate Professor Sammut said.
“They are also sometimes best placed for missions into dangerous waters, where it would be too much of a risk to send a ship or a submarine with a human crew.”
Associate Professor Sammut, the Director of the Centre for Maritime Engineering, Control and Imaging at Flinders, is working with Dr Youhong Tang to improve the shape and structure of hulls for autonomous underwater vehicles using new nanohybrid materials.
The researchers are currently developing new materials for reducing hydrodynamic drag and increasing hull strength for underwater vehicles using a nanofiller enhanced, fibre reinforced polymer. Pressure hulls are the main load-bearing structures of naval submarines and autonomous underwater vehicles.
“Once the research community is able to demonstrate the reliability and the potential of these autonomous vessels, we hope the legislators will agree to letting them operate across a wide range, helping to survey our coastline, engage in rescue and policing operations, research marine creatures and grow our knowledge of the oceans,” Associate Professor Sammut said.