During the week from July 22-27, 2013 tomorrow’s underwater robots were tested at the European center of Underwater Technologies, located at Ifremer, the French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea, located near Toulon, in Southern France.
The tests were carried out by research engineers in the scope of a four-year-research-program named MORPH (Marine Robotic System of Self-Organizing, Logically Linked Physical Nodes). Launched in February 2012, MORPH is funded by the European Commission with a budget of €8.5 million.
32 researchers from five countries and nine member organizations participated in the trials: ATLAS ELEKTRONIK (Germany), Ifremer (France), Jacobs University Bremen (Germany), Ilmenau University of Technology (Germany), Universitat de Girona – Computer Vision and Robotics Research Institute (Spain), IMAR (Institute of Marine Research Portugal), NATO center for Maritime Research and Experimentation (based in La Spezia, Italy), Instituto Superior Tecnico (IST Portugal), Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche - Istituto di Studi sui Sistemi Intelligenti per l'Automazione (CNR-ISSIA, Italy).
For a brief moment, the south of France became a privileged testing ground for the integration and cooperative operation of multiple heterogeneous marine vehicles, perhaps the world's most advanced fleet of surface and underwater drones.
These marine robots love teamwork. Without any physical interconnection among them, they constantly communicate with each other and sense their relative positions via a sophisticated acoustic communication and ranging network. In parallel, they share useful data acquired with dedicated sensors. The new robotic concept at the core of the MORPH project will lead to efficient methods to map the underwater environment with great accuracy in situations that defy existing technology. Namely, underwater surveys over rugged terrain and structures with full 3D complexity such as those occurring near underwater cliffs.
A large number of field applications are envisioned: harbor protection, monitoring of industrial infrastructures (e.g., offshore wind power installations and pipelines), sea mine detection, habitat mapping and environmental monitoring, and exploration of marine resources.