The efficacy of turnkey USVs to be considered with caution

March 29, 2018

Like Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), the popularity of Unmanned Surface Vessels (USVs) for hydrographic surveys has skyrocketed in recent years. Commercial demand has seen the price of USVs reduce year on year whilst relative performance continues to increase. Following this metric, the manufacture of these systems has expanded from a few specialised suppliers to encompass dozens of providers, each with a unique USV offering. While the increased demand has seen diversification in the types of USVs available with a broader range of hydrographic sensors including multibeam echosounders, it has in turn created diversification in the ‘end user’. No longer are USVs confined to the hydrographic market.

Indeed, the marketing of these USV’s as an autonomous “plug and play” hydrographic data collection tool can lead to the misconception by the ‘end user’ that specialist hydrographic surveying skills are no longer required to collect such data. As a result, it is becoming common to see inexperienced users operating USV’s and collecting data with complete trust of the USV’s integrated hydrographic system without consideration of the possible factors affecting the quality and accuracy of the data. While these systems are designed to be as fully-integrated as possible and as simple as possible to operate and collect data, a good understanding of how these USV’s are setup and configured is primordial to the success and reliability of the survey. The knowledge of skilled hydrographic surveyors with regards to the environmental factors, echosounder characteristics and performances as well as the validation of the positioning and depth computations is the key to a survey with a traceable reliability. In some instances where these factors are neglected by using inexperienced or unqualified operators, the probability of obtaining incorrect survey results and their consequences increases considerably.

Mathieu Bestille
Operations Manager | MSSSI CPHS1 | BSc

Andrew Bembrick
PHS Hydrographic Surveyor
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Precision Hydrographic Services

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