Revolutionary watercraft charts seabeds and shorelines

A high-tech unmanned watercraft developed by Fraunhofer Institute autonomously maps bodies of water, producing detailed 3D maps of seabeds and shorelines.
Abdul-Rahman Oladimeji Bello
Water shore

Surveying bodies of water efficiently has always been challenging. It requires specialized vessels and substantial manpower. However, a team of researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute of Optronics, System Technologies, and Image Exploitation (IOSB) has now developed an innovative solution that could revolutionize the process.

Their easy-to-operate unmanned watercraft autonomously surveys rivers, lakes, and harbors above and below the surface, producing detailed 3D maps. Up-to-date and precise maps of water bodies are essential for authorities, port operators, and the future of autonomous shipping.

However, traditional mapping methods are costly, time-consuming, and lack the necessary frequency and accuracy required for future applications. To address this, the Fraunhofer IOSB research team developed an autonomous watercraft as part of the TAPS project (semi-automatic navigation system for rivers and lakes).

The autonomous watercraft utilizes a combination of sensors, including GPS, acceleration and angular rate sensors, and a doppler velocity log (DVL), which allows the vessel to navigate autonomously. Laser scanners and cameras capture above-water details, enabling the creation of high-precision 3D models of the surroundings. For underwater mapping, a multi-beam sonar is integrated into the sensor system, producing a complete 3D model of the seabed.

Dr. Janko Petereit, a scientist at Fraunhofer IOSB, explains that the semi-automatic navigation system simplifies the process for users. After specifying the area to be mapped, the system calculates the optimal route, and the watercraft begins its autonomous survey.

The lightweight watercraft, measuring 2 m x 1.5 m x 1 m and weighing 64 kg, adeptly avoids obstacles using laser scanners and sonar. Real-time 3D models are generated during the journey, allowing for dynamic navigation, while a second high-precision 3D model is computed after data evaluation.

Revolutionary watercraft charts seabeds and shorelines

The operational prototype has undergone successful testing on various lakes, and the Fraunhofer research group "Smart Ocean Technologies" in Rostock is currently utilizing it for other underwater and surface robotics projects.

The implications of the technology.

The implications of this technology are vast. It enables autonomous surveying of navigation channels, civil engineering structures, and even autonomous excavation of waterways.

Additionally, the software stack developed for autonomous navigation can be used by those seeking to navigate bodies of water autonomously without mapping. Dr. Petereit believes this technology will play a crucial role in passenger and freight transport on the high seas and inland waterways, leading to intelligent logistics chains that combine rail, road, and water transport.

Moreover, as autonomous shipping becomes more prevalent, highly accurate maps become indispensable. Manual surveys conducted every one or two years are not as accurate as the comprehensive 3D models produced by this system.

More frequent and detailed river surveys will be necessary to optimize the condition of waterways. Dr. Petereit emphasizes that their semi-automatic navigation system offers a cost-effective alternative to current surveying methods, providing accurate and up-to-date information.

With this breakthrough technology, the future of waterway surveying and autonomous shipping looks promising. As the demand for precise mapping and efficient navigation increases, the autonomous watercraft developed by Fraunhofer IOSB could pave the way for a new era of safer and more efficient water transport systems.

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