Monday 19th Nov, 2018

Autonomous underwater vehicle a “new dimension” in Antarctic science

Photo: Dr Damien Guihen
Photo: Dr Damien Guihen

AN AUTONOMOUS underwater vehicle (AUV) able to dive up to 5000 metres while operating underneath the ice has been unveiled at the Australian Maritime College (AMC).

During a recent ceremony, the $5m polar vehicle was granted the name ‘nupiri muka’, which means ‘Eye of the Sea‘ in palawa kani, the language of Tasmanian Aborigines.

Nupiri muka is funded by the Australian Government through the Antarctic Gateway Partnership – a $24 million Special Research Initiative of the Australian Research Council (ARC) aiming to provide insights into the role of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean in the global climate system.

AMC contributed $3m to the cost of the vehicle.

The vehicle is to be maintained and operated by a team of specialist research and technical staff at AMC’s Autonomous Maritime Systems Laboratory, a research facility that was also formally opened at the College this week.

University Vice-Chancellor Professor Peter Rathjen said the AMC had developed a strength in specialised research and technologies.

“This new facility will advance the signature contributions of the University and its partners to climate sciences, and Antarctic and Southern Ocean research,” he said.

“There are also rich opportunities at AMC for Tasmania to explore the application of these new technologies to modern naval defence, marine biosecurity and cyber marine opportunities, for example,” he said.

“AMC is well placed to host a centre of innovation which builds on the capabilities it has developed as well as drawing in new businesses.”

University Provost Professor Mike Calford said the College worked closely with local, national and international agencies to undertake research and develop capability in maritime engineering.

“The power of this funding is it allows us to take undertake groundbreaking research in a particular field while growing and adapting our capacity for possible new endeavours for the region,” he said.

Antarctic Gateway Partnership director, Professor Richard Coleman, said the project was ambitious and world leading.

“The development process has built strong technical collaboration between AMC and the AUV manufacturer, International Submarine Engineering (ISE) of Canada,” Professor Coleman said.

Australian Maritime College principal, Professor Neil Bose, said the polar vehicle’s arrival and facility opening were significant events.

“Nupiri muka is the newest and one of the most capable AUVs in the world for use under sea ice and ice shelves,” Professor Bose said.

“It will allow us to further build our global reputation for engineering in extreme environments, and help foster strong ties with the international research community.”

AMC AUV facility coordinator Peter King said the features of the polar underwater robot made it ideal for under-ice conditions.

“At nearly seven metres long and weighing one-and-a-half tonnes, nupiri muka’s endurance enables it to travel more than 140km or 24 hours without needing to be recharged,” Mr King said.

“It’s also highly customisable, such that the engineering team can install a range of instruments in addition to those already on board.”

Nupiri muka completed its first set of trials in Tasmania last month with several successful dives in the North Tamar.

Subsequent longer and deeper trials are planned for coastal Tasmania over the next few months.

It is expected to be deployed to the Antarctic in 2018/19.



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