Marport newest product, AquaPix, has been featured in the July issue of UT3, the online magazine of the Society for Underwater Technology. AquaPix® is a new interferometric Synthetic Aperture Sonar targeted to mine countermeasures, hydrography, seabed survey and other underwater imaging markets. It is the latest product to be based on Marport’s revolutionary Software Defined Sonar®.
Please click the link below to view the article starting on page 88.
On February 11, 2011, the Prime Minister of Canada, The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, P.C., M.P., the Minister of National Defence, The Honourable Peter McKay, P.C., M.P. and Senator The Honourable Fabian Manning, P.C. visited the National Research Council of Canada’s Institute for Ocean Technology (IOT) in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Dr. Mary Williams, Director General of IOT, introduced the Prime Minister and his colleagues to the engineering staff of Marine Robotics Inc. (MRI), whose Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) development laboratory is located within the Institute.
It was explained to the visitors that the twin hulled SQX AUV on display has an innovative and patent pending propulsion and control system developed together by staff of IOT and MRI. The AUV is designed to accomplish two primary missions: ocean floor surveying, as well as to be a mine countermeasures (MCM) platform. The MCM function was explained in some detail, as well as the challenge of designing and building control software that allows the AUV to conduct pre-programmed missions to completion without human intervention.
The Honourable Gary Goodyear, Minister of State (Science and Technology) visited National Research Council Institute for Ocean Technology (NRC-IOT) in St. John’s, Newfoundland yesterday. The purpose of his visit was to announce $135 million to support community-based technology partnerships across Canada, including $6.3 million for the institute. The federal government investment will apply to 11 communities across the country and will provide opportunities for businesses to conduct research in partnership with the National Research Council. Marport was invited to participate in the event as an example of a local company that has worked with NRC-IOT to develop new products and increase its competitiveness in the marketplace.
Marport’s SQX-500 Unmanned Underwater Vehicle was on display and was the subject of a great deal of interest from the audience, media and political representatives. “These investments allow us to commercially exploit our vast institutional knowledge base and transform it into new technologies, products and services” said Derrick Rowe, addressing the audience on hand for the announcement, “These types of investments are exactly the kind of vision and leadership this country and this region need.”
The Managing Director and Operations Manager of Geodetic Offshore Services Limited (GOSL), Nigeria visited Marport’s St. John’s office from March 15 to 17. The purpose of their visit was to demonstrate progress on the development of Marport’s SQX Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (UUV) program.
Last year, GOSL purchased a SQX-500 UUV, to be upgraded to a 3,000 meter depth rated SQX-3000 UUV, both equipped with a number of Marport sensors.
In-water tests of the vehicle were successfully completed in the large testing tanks of the NRC Institute for Ocean Technology and the Marine Institute Flume Tank. As a result of these successful tests, GOSL has decided to execute its option to procure a second SQX class vehicle.
An article about Marport’s SQX Unmanned Underwater Vehicle program is now available on the NRC website at:
March 1, 2010
A small unmanned submarine with cutting-edge manoeuvring and sonar capabilities is set to dive into new commercial and defence markets.
St. John’s-based Marport Canada Inc., which builds sonars for commercial deepwater fishing, is releasing its SQX-500 submarine. The submarine was built with NRC help and is suited for use in defence, offshore energy and ocean science applications.
The story starts in 2005, when Marport CEO Karl Kenny conceived the idea of using software to define the function of a sonar device, rather than building a dedicated piece of equipment for each type of application.
“We thought, ‘Why don’t we build one platform that would cover a wide range of applications in our area?’” says Neil Riggs, Marport’s vice-president of research and development. “As we explored the idea, we realized there were other markets we could get into besides fishing.”
One sonar, many uses
Marport’s unique software-defined sonar uses pre-programmed computer modules that plug into a single piece of standard sensor hardware. Until now, each individual type of sonar has been designed as a separate piece of electronics hardware.
Thinking about uses for the device, Kenny reasoned that an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) — basically a robot submarine — could carry the sonar system into new markets.
The first thought was to build a vehicle to “fly” a side-scanning sonar above the ocean floor to map routes for subsea cables and pipelines. In order for the images to be usable, the AUV would have to be stable. Kenny suggested that if it could be made stable enough, and could also hover, it could take on further roles such as underwater inspections. In 2007, Marport decided to develop its own AUV.
“At that point I remembered that I knew people at the NRC Institute for Ocean Technology in St. John’s who were involved with this kind of work,” says Riggs.
A custom-built sub
NRC had an underwater vehicle development team. Marport had an innovative sonar technology. They joined forces to develop the SQX-500. NRC suggested using an inherently stable twin-hull design pioneered at the U.S.-based Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and, with Marport, developed a combined propulsion and steering gear to give the little sub unique capabilities.
“The basic idea came from NRC,” says Riggs. “It has really evolved, but NRC was an important partner at the beginning and is still very much part of the project. We have a nice little vehicle now, and Memorial University of Newfoundland has joined the development team.”
The vehicle is a twin-hulled submersible with two 1.6-metre long, 23-cm diameter hulls that hold sonar, batteries and navigation electronics. Joining the top and bottom hulls are a pair of rudders, each supporting a motor, thrusters and horizontal winglets that provide power and steering.
The “vector thrustering propulsion control system,” prototyped in NRC’s test tanks in St. John’s, and jointly patented by Marport and NRC, gives the machine high manoeuvrability and a helicopter-like ability to hover.
Going deeper and farther
The SQX-500 can dive to 500 metres, but Marport already plans a model for 3000 metres. In addition to civil uses, the company will work with General Dynamics Canada to develop the AUV for defence roles such as anti-mine countermeasures.
Plans for the future: a swarm of SQX vehicles operating under the ice. Graphic courtesy of General Dynamics Canada Ltd.
Riggs sees many essential but low-profile uses for an SQX-type of vehicle, such as mapping routes for underwater oil and gas pipelines or power cables, or inspecting underwater parts of offshore drilling platforms.
Riggs says that in the future, AUVs will work in swarms — each independent, but communicating with the others to cover various tasks in an overall mission. In the nearer term, he hopes that SQX-500 swarms will be used to map the Arctic seabed.
“If we have one great ambition,” he says, “it’s to have our vehicle used in the Arctic, under the ice.”
Marport will be exhibiting at the Oceanology International 2010 exhibition being held in London’s ExCel conference centre from March 9 – 11th.
Oceanology International (OI) is the world’s premier meeting place for the marine science and ocean technology community. OI hosts over 500 suppliers of products and services from around the world and is attended by over 6600 attendees from 89 different countries. In addition, the OI 2010 conference, developed with the Society for Underwater Technology, will focus on the five core technical disciplines and will be headed by some of the industry’s leaders and influencers.
Marport will be exhibiting in the Canadian Pavilion – Stand F300 and will be showcasing our latest developments in underwater sensing, communications and robotics.
A full scale model of the SQX-500 UUV will be on the stand; as well as the latest Software Defined Sonar® platforms, including DataSquid® and Sonar Blades®. We will also be displaying our new Multi-Sensor Data Fusion System for Unmanned Underwater Vehicles.
Appointments to meet with our technical or commercial personnel can be arranged by emailing Glenda Leyte, Marketing Manager at firstname.lastname@example.org
France’s European affairs chief Pierre Lellouche on Feb. 24 tried to reassure ex-Soviet Baltic states that his country’s possible sale of a warship to Russia does not pose a security threat.
Lellouche told Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite in Vilnius that “the ship would be sold to Russia as a civil vessel, without any military equipment,” according to a press release from Grybauskaite’s office.
The senior French officials also told the Lithuanian head of state that “France had not yet received an official request from Russia to sell” the Mistral-class amphibious assault ship, a move which has raised concern in several ex-Soviet republics including Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia as well as Georgia.
The Baltic nations joined both NATO and the European Union in 2004, a move opposed by their Soviet-era master Moscow.
“On the French side we would really like to move beyond the Cold War, to turn the page on the Cold War,” Lellouche told reporters in Vilnius.
Lellouche began a tour Feb. 24 of the EU Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
France would become the first NATO country to sell advanced military technology to Russia if a deal is sealed for the Mistral-class ship, capable of carrying up to 16 helicopters, hospital facilities and a 750-strong landing force.
Earlier this month a NATO spokesman said the Western defense alliance had no objections to France’s plan to sell an advanced warship to Russia, but did note the concern of some allies about the sale.
Lying beneath the ocean is spectacular terrain ranging from endless chains of mountains and isolated peaks to fiery volcanoes and black smokers exploding with magma and other minerals from below Earth’s surface. This mountainous landscape, some of which surpasses Mt. Everest heights and the marine life it supports, is the spotlight of a special edition of the research journal Oceanography.
These massive underwater mountains, or seamounts, are scattered across every ocean and collectively comprise an area the size of Europe. These deep and dark environments often host a world teeming with bizarre life forms found nowhere else on Earth. More than 99 percent of all seamounts remain unexplored by scientists, yet their inhabitants, such as the long-lived deepwater fish orange roughy, show signs of habitat destruction and over exploitation from intense international fishing efforts.
Scientists from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego and colleagues from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, Oregon State University, University of British Columbia and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution were among those who contributed their expertise in seamount chemistry, physics, geology, hydrology, oceanography, biology and fisheries conservation to this special interdisciplinary effort to delve into the extremely broad research supported by seamounts and to communicate the science and threats facing them to the public.
“One of the key goals of this special issue was to bring together the extremely diverse seamount research community that ranges from fisheries science and conservation all the way to mantle geochemistry,” said Hubert Staudigel – a research geologist at Cecil H. and Ida M. Green Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics at Scripps and the lead guest editor of the special issue. “In my eyes, this volume of Oceanography goes beyond that by presenting amazing new research in a way that the public can understand and get excited about.”
“This issue of Oceanography offers a broad perspective on seamount research of all major disciplines to raise awareness of the diversity of seamount research and to promote collaboration among seamount scientists,” wrote the editors of the issue, which represents the most comprehensive volume of peer-reviewed research on the subject to date.
“I was pleased to see how many of the contributions in this special issue deal with very practical and societally important issues of seamounts,” said U.S. Geological Survey Director Marcia McNutt.
This Oceanography issue is the result of the work of a National Science Foundation-funded biogeoscience research coordination network organized by Staudigel and the co-editors of the volume.
This comprehensive synthesis will establish new collaborations between scientists while at the same time offer a unique educational opportunity for the public to learn about an important feature on Earth that remains vastly unexplored.
For the first time this year, the Colombian Navy found and destroyed a semi-submersible drug smuggling boat. This one was found near the Ecuador border, and was nearly 17 meters (55 feet) long and capable of carrying at least eight tons of cocaine. Troops also found a workshop and a camp (for at least 30 people) that apparently supported construction of the boat. Last year, the navy caught 20 of these boats (at sea and on land). In the last seventeen years, since this type of smuggling “submarine” was first encountered, the Colombian military has captured 54 of them.
In the last five years, U.S., and other navy and coast guard ships off the coast between Mexico and Colombia, have detected nearly 200 of these subs. Between 2000 and 2007, only 23 of these boats were spotted. But now, over 70 a year are detected or captured. Many of the captures are the result of intelligence information at the source, not air and naval patrols out there just looking for them. These boats are hard to spot (by aircraft or ships), which is why they are being used more often.
It’s estimated that about 75 of these subs are being built in northwest Colombia each year, and sent on one way trips north. Each of these boats carries a four man crew and about seven tons of cocaine (worth nearly $200 million on the street). The loss of each boat and its cargo cost the Colombian drug cartels over $10 million in costs (of building the boat and producing the drugs). The crews are often Colombian fishermen forced to make the long voyage, because their families were being held hostage. Running these boats is considered very dangerous work, and the crews are paid well if they succeed, whether they volunteered for the work or not. Because of the risks (about ten percent are believed lost at sea), the boats are nicknamed “coffins.” The crews are told to pull the plug (literally) and sink the boat (and its cargo) if spotted and about to be boarded. Even with the boarding party on the way, jumping off a sinking boat, usually at night, is dangerous. Laws have been changed so that the crews escaping from their sinking boats, can still be charged with drug smuggling (despite the loss of the evidence). The drug gangs are looking into automating the boats, so that no crew is needed at all.
These semi-submersible “submarines” have been operating off the northwest (Pacific) coast of South America for over a decade. More than a third of the of the 800 tons of cocaine coming out of Colombia each year leaves via the Pacific coast subs, that move the drugs north. Despite increased efforts, it’s believed that less than ten percent of these subs have been caught. The drug gangs still use other smuggling methods (aircraft, hidden in ship or aircraft cargo), but apparently the subs can move the most cocaine at once, with the lowest risk.
A typical Colombian “semi-submersibles” is a 60 foot long and 12 feet wide, fiberglass boats, powered by a diesel engine, with a very low freeboard, and a small “conning tower”, providing the crew (usually of four), and engine, with fresh air, and permitting the crew to navigate the boat. A boat of this type is the only practical kind of submarine for drug smuggling. A real submarine, capable of carrying five tons of cocaine, would cost a lot more, and require a highly trained crew. Moreover, a conventional sub actually spends most of its time running on the surface anyway, or just beneath it using a snorkel device to obtain air for the diesel engine crew. So the drug subs get the most benefit of a real submarine (which cost about $300 million these days) at a fraction of the cost. Actually, there are commercial subs available, for under $10 million, but the construction and sale of these are regulated.
Local boat builders created and refined the current semi-submersible design. Some foreign experts have been seen in the area, apparently to help the boat builders with some technical problem. These subs cost over $700,000 to construct, and carry up to ten tons of cocaine. The boat builders are getting rich, constructing the boats in well hidden locations up the rivers that empty into the Pacific.
At one point it was thought that as many as half of the subs were captured or lost at sea. But this is apparently not the case. That’s because most of these subs are built for a one way trip. This keeps down the cost of construction, and the cost of hiring a crew (who fly home). That one voyage will usually be for about a thousand kilometres, with the boat moving at a speed of 15-25 kilometres an hour. The average trip will take about two weeks, because the boats have learned to go very slowly during the day, to avoid leaving a wake that U.S. airborne sensors can detect.
In the past, some subs making long range trips were caught while being towed by a larger ship. Apparently the plan was to tow a semi-submersible, loaded with a ten ton cocaine cargo, long distances, and then be cut it loose for the final approach to the shore of California or some area in Europe or on the east coast of North America. While the subs are most frequently used from the Pacific coast of Colombia, they are showing up elsewhere as well (in Spain and Sri Lanka).
These subs are not stealthy enough to avoid detection all the time, and the U.S. has been trying to tweak search radars, and other types of sonar sensors, to more reliably detect the drug subs.
These stealthy boats are a concern to counter-terror officials. Bombs and terrorists can be transported in these vessels, and the technology for building them can be, and perhaps already has, spread to terrorist groups. The basic principles are available on the Internet, and any skilled boat builders can construct them. The technology is improving as well. Recently captured boats had a system installed that cooled the engine exhaust, making it more difficult for infrared (heat) sensors to spot it.