The harshness of the ocean requires expensive resources and logistics for supporting manned missions, especially underwater. Thus, the use of Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) is increasingly seen as a cost-effective means to carry out underwater missions. In the disaster of flight 447 in the Atlantic, an AUV was employed to find the remains of the crashed aircraft; in the implementation of the European Marine Strategy Framework Directive, AUVs are a tool for habitat mapping, identification of geomorphological features, and detection of marine litter for promoting biodiversity preservation and the good environmental status of marine waters.
During long-term missions, AUVs may collect data in the order of Gbytes, including video and bathymetric data. Typically, they only upload the data at the end of the mission, upon coming to the surface. This causes delay in data processing and visualization, precludes possible adjustments in the AUV’s mission, whose future direction may depend on the present collected data, and introduces significant dead-times between consecutive AUV missions. The solution for this problem is to have broadband communications between the AUV and a central station, so that collected data are timely uploaded along the mission. Still, research in this domain has focused on acoustic communications, which are unsuitable for transferring large amounts of data, or electromagnetic communications, which are only available when the AUV is close to the central station.
The GROW project aims to develop a novel solution for timely long-range, high bitrate underwater wireless communications. The solution combines short-range wireless technologies (e.g., radio), intermediate AUVs as data mules, and long-range acoustic communications; the latter are used to control in real-time the range, bitrate, and latency of a data link between the AUV and the central station.
The main scientific contributions envisioned by GROW are: 1) a novel long range, high bitrate underwater communications solution; 2) an algorithm for controlling the data link range, bitrate, and latency, according to the AUV mission and traffic generation rate; 3) a solution for long and short range mobile target tracking and precise relative positioning in highly dynamic conditions, combining acoustics and short-range perception for relative localization.
A multidisciplinary research team is involved in GROW: the team from INESC TEC, with long experience in wireless networks and robotics, including the development of AUVs and navigation algorithms for marine robots; the team from IPMA, with vast know-how in marine geosciences, hazards characterization, and experience in marine observation and monitoring.
The project is expected to produce not only relevant scientific results but also a solution with significant economic and social impact. The technology transfer will be ensured by the involvement of the Industry Partnership and Technology Licensing offices at INESC TEC.
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