A key feature of the vehicle is that it can inspect ship hulls with very limited prior knowledge about the hull shape. You launch the vehicle from
the support boat, manually drive it close to the hull over the fiber-optic tether,
push a button on the joystick and the vehicle switches to automatic survey
mode. It autonomously detects the hull and executes a systematic search pattern at a fixed standoff distance by sensing the hull curvature and following it.
The U.S. Navy fleet users are trained to operate the vehicles in a few days: a
day in the classroom and a day or two on the water. We designed this system
to be very simple to use. Programming a hull search is trivial and only requires
answering simple questions such as what side of the ship the vehicle is going
to start from, and what track spacing should be used — very basic information.
The production vehicle is the third-generation HAUV. The vehicle’s design
evolved from a concept on paper, to a proof-of-concept prototype (HAUV- 1),
to a production prototype (HAUV- 2) and finally a production system (HAUV-
3). Improvements are still made on the production vehicles and retrofitted to
earlier vehicles to maintain the same baseline across all production vehicles.
Additional upgrades are in progress to expand the use of the vehicle to geo-ref-erenced bottom searches and make it interoperable with other U.S. Navy robotic assets using COIN (Common Operator Interface). If a contact is found by a
torpedo-form-factor vehicle and the information is in COIN, it can be pulled
out and used to program the Mk19 vehicle for closer investigation.
After searching for IEDs, the next logical step is to make the vehicle
capable of neutralizing IEDs it detects. We are already working on this
aspect with ONR and have put dual manipulators into a second-generation
vehicle for sea testing. We are also looking into adding a manipulation
capability to the Mk19 vehicle.
To date, we have focused on IEDs and mines on ship hulls, but when we
search a hull we can also see the biofouling. So, people who are interested in
monitoring the condition of ship hulls to determine if dry docking is necessary
could use the vehicle as it stands today. Through modifications and customiza-tion, the HAUV can also be used in a variety of other applications. We
are currently actively pursuing shallow water oil and gas applications.
Bluefin Robotics Continues
EOD HULS Deliveries
The Navy accepted delivery of Quincy, Mass.-based Bluefin Robotics
Corp.’s ship hull inspection systems
4 and 5 under the “Explosive Ordnance Disposal, Hull Unmanned Underwater Vehicle Localization System” (EOD HULS) Program of Record in February. Each EOD HULS
system, known as Mk19, consists of
two third-generation Hovering
Autonomous Underwater Vehicles
(HAUV-3s) and associated support
equipment that allow for detection of
improvised explosive devices (IEDs)
and limpet mines on ship hulls,
piers, pilings and quay walls without
putting divers in harm’s way.
The Navy owns 10 production vehicles and two prototypes. Two more
systems are scheduled to be purchased this year under a $30 million
production contract awarded to
Bluefin in 2011 for up to 15 systems.
HAUV development began in 2002
under Office of Naval Research
(ONR) funding. In August 2007,
HAUV-1A participated in the EOD
HULS Demonstration Phase in San
Diego, after which Bluefin was
awarded a contract for the Prototype
Phase. A system consisting of two
HAUV-2-class vehicles, topside/sup-port equipment and spares was delivered to the Navy in October 2008. A
successful Fleet Evaluation in May
2010 led to the production contract.
Jerome Vaganay is director of Inspection Systems at Bluefin, a wholly owned subsidiary of Battelle.
Four third-generation Hovering Autonomous Underwater Vehicles were part of the
Explosive Ordnance Disposal, Hull Unmanned Underwater Vehicle Localization
Systems recently delivered to the Navy by Bluefin Robotics Corp.