Unmanned Survey Vessel Helps Remote Area Projects

Unmanned Survey Vessel

By MarEx 2015-05-15 10:04:41

Technology developed to help Marines plan for amphibious operations is now assisting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with collecting hydrographic survey data in areas not easily accessed by a manned vessel. 

Developed by the Corps’ Engineer Research and Development Center in Vicksburg, Mississippi, the Unmanned Survey Vessel for Shallow Water helps military planners by gathering survey information in dangerous or inaccessible areas, while keeping recon teams out of harm’s way. 

Researchers and surveyors are finding that it also has a civil works application. 

“It’s a great application that started with the military but now is able to move on to support civil works functions,” said Jeff Jalbrzikowski, a surveyor for the Corps’ Pittsburgh District. 

Jalbrzikowski joined field data collection experts from ERDC’s Coastal and Hydraulic Laboratory at the district’s Loyalhanna Lake, May 6. He reached out to the lab after learning that the USV recently collected sedimentation survey data at the Bankhead Lock and Dam on the Black Warrior River in Alabama. 

Jalbrzikowski said he saw use for the vessel to obtain data in areas of Loyalhanna Lake that were too dangerous or too difficult to access with a manned survey boat. Project engineers need the data to design and construct an upcoming bridge replacement project at the rural Western Pennsylvanian lake.

“We’re trying to get a better answer for if we need to do any dredging here out on the lake” to plan for the project, said Jalbrzikowski.

The 10-ft-long, 48-in-wide catamaran-hulled boat can operate in six inches of water and provide multi-beam imaging in less than a meter of water or as deep as 120 meters of water. It is also equipped with a sound velocity probe, a motion sensor and a dual frequency GPS system. 

The technology provides a picture of the underwater landscape that helps planners and designers to see obstacles, sedimentation buildup and navigation passages.

The boat is driven by remote control system that directs power from two onboard batteries to any or all of the three motors. In a pinch, it can turn around in its own space. 

“It has everything you would need to do a hydrographic type survey,” said William Butler, a research physical scientist at CHL. “We’re here today to help out on the bathymetry portion [of the bridge replacement project] at Loyalhanna Lake so they’ll know what type of vessels they can get in and where they can maneuver when they do conduct the project.”

Collecting field data also helps ERDC researchers to fine tune their product and the application of its onboard technologies. 

“This has been in development for about a year,” said Butler. “We are now continuing to look at different communications systems and different sensors to integrate with this boat,” he added. 

Researchers are planning to integrate above and underwater LiDAR and looking at providing capabilities for conducting structural analysis on piers and other structures. 

At the end of the day, ERDC was able to provide a full survey of specific areas of Loyalhanna Lake, even up to the dam. It also is providing the Pittsburgh District the opportunity to consider how the technology might be applied across the district to access its many remote areas. 

To learn more about this technology, visit: http://1.usa.gov/1bB9gnI

By Jeff Hawk
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Pittsburgh District

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