Innovation Magazine July-August 2019

machine to map the bottom of the ocean under the giant Sørsdal Glacier, check the salt content of the water, determine how cold the current is, and look for the very first time at the underside of Sørsdal to see if it is melting from the bottom as well as the top. Orrin Malacko, EIT, who started at ISE as a student in 2012 and became a full- time employee in 2016, is currently lead mechanical engineer for ISE’s latest Explorer model, which is newer even than the one deployed to the Antarctic this past winter. It will go to Indian Arm for sea trials this summer, before heading to the Far East to look for mineral deposits off the coast of China. “All Explorers can be modified to suit the needs of the purchaser,” he says. For example, the Explorer “is our first 6,000-metre AUV. That means it can, if required, go six kilometres straight down, which takes well over an hour.” It can also be customized to complete more than 390 kilometres—or 72 hours—of continuous unsupervised surveying, and fast-charge its own battery and transfer data while under the ice. “We can also add a feature where, if for some reason the customer may not want to recover the vehicle right away, it can park itself on the ocean floor and wait.” In addition, an Explorer may be equipped with a side-scan sonar to create a detailed image of the bottom of the seafloor, a multibeam echo-sounder to determine water depths and map the seafloor, and other equipment, such as a sub-bottom profiler to identify layers of sediment and rock under the seafloor. “Most commonly,” says Malacko, “someone will buy an Explorer for mineral exploration, but they are often used for military or scientific research and monitoring as well, and for oil and gas exploration. We’re also now moving into a more optical era,

Jackson never lost touch with ISE, however, even hiring ISE technicians for several projects and renting space in the ISE shop until he had a large enough test facility of his own. He also never forgot what he learned about AUVs through Theseus. As a result, his company, too, began to build AUVs three years ago. Their models include the Imotus-1, which resembles an egg in shape, in contrast to the torpedo shape of the ISE AUVs, to allow it to be used in enclosed spaces, such as inside the legs of an offshore oil and gas platform. Once there, the Imotus-1 can hover to inspect and lightly clean the structure, and test the thickness of its steel plates.

where we’re seeing AUVs with cameras used for pipeline inspections.” And he believes that AUVs are “going to be used in many more and different applications in the future, especially since, with increased AI [artificial intelligence] on board, they’ll be able to do more in one mission,” making them more economical in the long run. (Added to the cost of the AUV itself is the price of transporting and launching it, often from a leased vessel that may cost upwards of $250,000 a day— though some ISE clients, including the University of Tasmania, have launched their Explorers from boat trailers.) Eric Jackson, P.Eng., founder and President of Burnaby’s Cellula Robotics, Ltd., agrees that the future is looking very bright for the AUV industry. Jackson is one of a number of engineers who got their start with ISE (he was employee number five) before venturing out on their own. After serving as project manager for ISE’s ARCS AUV, he supervised the development of Theseus’s autonomous control system. Once the excitement of Theseus had died down, however, Jackson did not see much happening commercially in the AUV field—“there were big projects but with big separations between them”—and he eventually decided to move on. In 2001, he formed Cellula to manage projects for Vancouver’s Placer Dome, Inc. (the company was bought by Toronto’s Barrick Gold Corp. in 2006), including the development of robotic systems for narrow-vein hard-rock mining. In a return to the sea in 2004, he was Placer Dome’s research and development manager for a project to mine copper and gold in deep water off Papua New Guinea. Further subsea work followed, and Jackson eventually focused Cellula on seafloor drills and subsea robotic systems, primarily with geotechnical and geophysical applications.

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