Innovation Magazine July-August 2019

These aluminum buoyancy compensation tanks each held 20 kilometres of fibre- optic cable packs. The tanks filled with water as the cable was dispensed, to counter the increased buoyancy. Each Project Spinnaker member had the opportunity to sign a tank before its first cable- laying mission. P hoto : M ike C rane P hotography .

acoustic and environmental data—had heard about recent work done by International Submarine Engineering, Ltd. (ISE). Founded in the Lower Mainland in 1974 by former Royal Canadian Navy Lieutenant-Commander James McFarlane, P.Eng., ISE quickly became a world leader in subsea remotely operated vehicles, or ROVs, which are unmanned, highly manoeuvrable robots connected by a communications cable to an above-sea controller. ROVs are ideal for working from a stationary spot to find shipwrecks or explore a specific area of the seafloor but are limited by the length of their cable. In 1983, looking for a way to

work underwater without a tether, the company started building its first autonomous underwater vehicle, or AUV. This torpedo-shaped creation, called ARCS, was intended to help the Canadian Hydrographic Service survey the Arctic seafloor; it successfully completed sea trials in BC’s warmer waters in 1985—becoming the world’s first AUV with proven obstacle- avoidance capabilities in the process— but was shut down for lack of funding in 1986. “Project Spinnaker allowed us to bring ARCS out of moth balls and use it as a test platform for new AUV technologies,” says Butler, who has written a book about the project,

called Into the Labyrinth: The Making of a Modern-Day Theseus . He joined ISE in 1985, “when the computer revolution was just starting. I had been working in telecommunications software, but I was also a scuba diver and had a great interest in the ocean. I really wanted to work with Jacques Cousteau. ISE was pretty close.” Butler worked on the ARCS AUV as well as ISE’s diesel- powered snorkelling semi-submersible DOLPHIN before being assigned to help develop and deploy the one-off Theseus AUV for Project Spinnaker, which remained active even after the Cold War ended in 1989 to help assert Canada’s Arctic sovereignty.


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