New research project to strengthen the use of AUVs in seabed monitoring


The Spanish designer of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV) IQUA Robotics and its partners are jointly leading a project called Platform for Long-lasting Observation of Marine Ecosystems (PLOME), aiming to develop an underwater platform to intelligently monitor marine ecosystems in real time.

Courtesy of IQUA Robotics

More specifically, the project proposes to develop a set of independent systems consisting of fixed stations that remain on the seabed, underwater vehicles and surface vehicles that work together and autonomously to collect data.

All systems have batteries and communication systems while underwater vehicles can be parked to charge batteries and surface vehicles can operate by extracting energy from the environment.

As explained, the set of systems constitutes a non-invasive modular platform that can monitor an area for several weeks, and up to a month, without human intervention.

Once collected, the systems are maintained, data is extracted, batteries are charged and the platform can be deployed again so that monitoring can continue in another area.

For three years, three experiments will be carried out in different places on the Catalan coast as part of the PLOME project.

The first experiment will take place in 2023 on the coast of Sant Feliu de Guíxols and it will be the first time that the technologies developed will work together to obtain data from the seabed.

During 2024, two last experiments of the project will be carried out with the first consisting of a validation in depth, between 300 and 500 meters, in a protected area of ​​real fishing near the city of Barcelona, ​​by means of an oceanographic boat. In this experiment, the monitoring systems will be validated in real conditions for several days, by supervising and operating the systems from the ship.

The final experiment will be carried out on the coast of Vilanova i la Geltrú and will consist of validating all the systems at shallow depth for more than a week without interruption. The platform will be connected to the OBSEA marine observatory, which will allow real-time monitoring of all systems to check that they are working properly.

The PLOME project has a budget of 1.5 million euros from funds from the Spanish Research Agency and the European Next Generation fund.

Besides IQUA Robotics, project partners include Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya BarcelonaTech (UPC), Universitat de les Illes Balears (UIB), Universitat Politècnica de Madrid (UPM) and Institut de Ciències del Mar ( ICM-SCCI).

For this project, IQUA Robotics will develop mapping algorithms based on data acquired with lasers, camcorders and acoustic cameras while ICM is the partner responsible for calculating ecological indicators as a synthetic metric of health and recovery of marine ecosystems.

The UIB will contribute through the generation and implementation of artificial intelligence algorithms for the analysis of the images obtained by the cameras on board the platforms, both in autonomous vehicles and in fixed stations. The objective is the detection, identification, cutting and quantification of the different marine species.

UPM will focus on the management of acoustic underwater communications and satellite and/or GSM communications.

Finally, the Center de Desenvolupament de Sistemes d’Adquisició Remota i Tractament de la Informació (SARTI-UPC) will help in the design of fixed seabed observation stations.

“With PLOME we want to consolidate the use of autonomous underwater vehicles as a seabed observation tool that does not require a whole human team and infrastructure dedicated to the time of use”said the researcher from the computer vision and robotics research group (VICOROB) at UdG and coordinator of the project, Mark Carreras.

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