The autonomous future of science!

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The autonomous future of science!

We’re excited to announce the release of our report “Understanding the current state of autonomous technologies to improve/expand observation and detection of marine species” – which is now publicly available. This was a collaborate project with Akvaplan-niva, British Antarctic Survey, CREEM, NORUT, Seiche Ltd and SMRU and it follows on from the recent release of another review we completed for IOGP on low visibility monitoring methods.

The goal of this report was to assess how autonomous vehicle systems (i.e. cool kit such as drones, underwater gliders, unmanned surface vehicles!) could be used to monitor marine mammals and other marine animals (particularly in the context of industrial activities of the oil and gas industry). This review explores how this kind of monitoring could be used for different purposes; e.g. mitigation monitoring, for estimating population status and trends, or to study behaviour – all which can help evaluate potential impacts of man-made noise on these animals. The report gives an overview of which platform types are best to use for the various monitoring types by comparing each class of platform and highlighting their particular strengths relating to the specific monitoring types.

The report provides a comprehensive evaluation of the status and potential of:

  • Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS): powered aircraft, gliders, kites and lighter-than-air aircraft
  • UAS sensors: thermal IR, non-thermal IR, RGB and video cameras
  • Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUV) and Autonomous Surface Vehicles (ASV): autonomous propeller driven craft, autonomous underwater buoyancy gliders, autonomous powered surface craft, self powered surface vehicles and drifting sensor packages
  • AUV / ASV sensors: Passive Acoustic Monitoring (PAM) and Active Acoustic Monitoring (AAM) sensors as well as animal-borne transponder tags.

Each of the systems was assessed using a range of evaluation criteria and metrics to figure out which autonomous systems might be suitable for different applications. We also considered potential platform and sensor combinations and explored practical aspects such as the requirements of autonomous vehicles for marine animal monitoring; current state of the autonomous vehicles industry, operational/logistical aspects, regulatory / political barriers and technical challenges of managing, storing and analysing large amount of data that are generated from these systems!

A take home message of the report is that it is not possible to give simple ‘one-size-fits-all’ suggestions for choosing the appropriate autonomous vehicle to conduct different kinds of monitoring applications, as there are many project dependent factors that need to be considered and in reality each project will need a carefully tailored solution! But the potential is there with some amazing systems available.

“A high quality, in-depth and comprehensive report, covering all important aspects, with a critical discussion of each technology’s pros and cons.”

Dr. Olaf Boebel (Alfred Wegner Institute, Germany), external report reviewer

Find the full report in the Sound & Marine Life Programme library and can be found here.

Ursula K. Verfuss, Aniceto, A.S., Biuw, M., Fielding, S., Gillespie, D., Harris, D., Jimenez, G., Johnston, P., Plunkett, R., Sivertsen, A., Solbø, A., Storvold, R., and Wyatt, R., 2016. Literature review: Understanding the current state of autonomous technologies to improve/expand observation and detection of marine species. Report number SMRUC-OGP2015/015 provided to IOGP, July 2016.

This work was funded by the Joint Industry Programme on E&P Sound and Marine Life.

About the Author:

Ursula is a Senior Scientist at SMRU Consulting Europe. Check out her bio under the "About Us" tab.

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