Off Tasmania’s coastline, Royal Australian Navy personnel have started to get acquainted with their newest allies.
- Autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV) can help the Navy map the sea floor, or search for mines
- Under a deal, up to 80 Navy personnel will be taught by the Australian Maritime College how to use autonomous marine systems
- Tasmania’s diversity of waters make it an ideal place to learn how to use the AUV
The Navy and the Australian Maritime College (AMC), based in northern Tasmania, struck a $4.7 million three-year autonomous marine systems training deal last August.
Under the deal, up to 80 Navy personnel will study in Tasmania each year and be taught by AMC staff how to use autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV), also known as aquatic robots, to enhance the country’s war fighting efforts.
The deal is now one year in and training has ramped up.
The latest Navy team to complete its training at Beauty Point, right near the top of the island state, was a hydrographic one.
The AMC’s autonomous marine system specialist Damien Guihen said the team would use the device to help map the world’s oceans.
“So they use it for mapping out areas maybe around beaches or places where they might need to bring ships,” Mr Guihen said.
“Using a robotic platform such as an AUV, it allows us to make measurements where maybe you don’t want to send somebody or it allows us to get closer to the seabed, so it makes operations generally safer and it allows us to free up people to do other tasks.”
‘It’s finally made them cool’
The training is also helping the navy find more underwater sea mines.
Chris White, who is the AMC’s Defence and Autonomous Systems manager, used to be a Royal Australian Navy diver.
He said the Navy had recently started using AUVs as part of its mine countermeasures — in other words, finding underwater mines.
“They’re using that technology to either remove the risk from the operator or the person or make it faster,” Mr White said.
“Certainly as a diver, the ability of that technology to search or go and look at large areas underwater is 10 to 20 times faster than what an actual human diver could do.
“Autonomy isn’t going to remove the people. You still need the people to understand the technology and that’s really what AMC is trying to help the Navy with.
“It’s getting those skills, knowledge and experience to use those new systems safely, effectively and reliably.”
It is unclear exactly how many sea mines planted during world wars and other conflicts are still out there.
“They’re probably inherently safe because they’ve been sitting on the bottom and batteries will have run down, but autonomous technology allows you to go and look for those safely without needing to expose people to extra risk,” Mr White said.
“Obviously there’s still the need for the human to deal with it once it’s been found.”
The $4.7 million training deal has helped the AMC secure four jobs.
Reuben Kent, who is one of AMC’s trainers, said it was good to see other agencies using the devices.
What makes Tasmania the ‘ideal’ AUV training base?
Apart from Tasmania having the country’s only maritime college, Mr White said the state’s topography and diversity of waters helped with AUV training.
The main AUV training grounds used by the AMC and Navy this year have been at Beauty Point, Lake St Clair and Macquarie Harbour, on the west coast.
“The ability for us to access things like high tidal flows, like in the Tamar River, or deep waters up in Lake St Clair or the central highland or stratified waters, which is like layered water over on the west coast — you just can’t get that anywhere else in Australia, so Tasmania is an ideal training environment,” Mr White said.
Royal Australian Navy Commodore John Stavridis said the Navy had been working with the AMC for some time and first worked together with autonomous systems in 2017.
“They are at the forefront of advances in this technology, so we’ve been able to work with them and they actually teach us the basics and more higher capabilities for what robotics can do,” Commodore Stavridis said.
He said the Navy was moving more toward autonomous devices to enhance its capabilities.
“This is just the advancement of technology rather than something new or a step change in what we’re doing,” Commodore Stavridis said.
“These robots and autonomous systems help us do our job as war fighters.
“The actual intent is to use robotic and autonomous systems largely to keep our sailors and our war fighters out of the minefield.
Mr White said as well as working with the Navy, the maritime college was also working with the University of Tasmania to provide short, undergraduate and postgraduate level autonomous marine systems course so the public could learn more about AUVs.
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