Innovation Magazine July-August 2019


Cellula’s Imotus-1 AUV in a test tank, probing a pipe with an ultrasonic thickness sensor. P hoto : C ellula R obotics , L td .

Responsible for Theseus’s navigation system and mission planning, Butler made a series of trips to the Arctic (he was one of those two shivering men dropped on the ice in 1992). He was also Chief Pilot for Theseus’s successful cable-laying mission off Ellesmere Island in 1996, when it laid 180 kilometres of cable out to Project Spinnaker’s listening post on the edge of the continental shelf, and returned some 60 hours later exactly as programmed to base. Butler was so confident the AUV would succeed, he duct-taped his iron engineering ring inside it: “It’s like sending a space probe out, you can’t just go and get it if it doesn’t return. But I trusted our work.” “Theseus was doing something that had never been done before,” says

Butler, who eventually left ISE in 2001 to work on autonomous dump trucks for the mining industry and now works freelance. “We needed to transport, launch, and recover an 11-metre long, 20,000-pound vehicle in sub-zero temperatures through several metres of ice.” Solutions included making the AUV modular, so it could be broken down to fit in a helicopter or Twin Otter floatplane and then reassembled easily, as well as developing entirely new control systems, such as a hybrid navigation system that combines data from two different types of sensors, inertial and acoustic, for increased precision and reliability. Still the property of DND, Theseus now rests in honourable retirement at ISE’s headquarters in Port Coquitlam,

but its legacy lives on, both at ISE and elsewhere. Over the past 20-plus years, ISE has continued to build on the Theseus platform with new generations of AUVs. This includes the Explorer, which— though significantly smaller and lighter than its predecessor, making it easier to transport—can go deeper, farther and for a longer time (as many as 10 continuous days) under the ice than the early Theseus engineers could ever have imagined. One Explorer recently finished a three-month mission to help scientists at the University of Tasmania understand why Antarctic glaciers are breaking apart. Assisted by ISE’s senior technical advisor, Jean-Marc Laframboise, who also worked on Theseus’s deployment in the Arctic, the scientists used the

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