Signing the agreement were, from left, Trembanis, Targett,
and Hughes, pictured here with Dora. Photo by Lisa Tossey
The University of Delaware’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment (CEOE) and offshore survey company UTEC Survey have signed an agreement that outlines cooperative efforts in autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) research.
Assistant Professor of Geological Science Art Trembanis said that he and his team will provide the company with training and use of UD’s AUV, a torpedo-shaped device that swims untethered through the water collecting data. The device will assist with UTEC’s efforts to map the ocean floor in support of a range of projects around the world.
Signing the two-year agreement at the university’s Newark campus were Trembanis, CEOE Dean Nancy Targett, and Trevor Hughes, UTEC’s director of sales and marketing.
“We are devoted to developing the next generation of ocean research tools, and this opportunity to extend our technological expertise to members of industry is a great testament to the strength of that work,” Targett said.
UTEC is one of the world’s fastest growing offshore survey companies. Its U.S. office is located in Houston, but the company also has regional offices in the U.K. (Aberdeen), Australia (Perth), and Southeast Asia. It provides a range of services such as site surveys and geohazard assessments to energy, telecommunication, construction, and renewables industries.
“The ability to utilize this existing robust platform to perform detailed surveys, coupled with the additional sensors UTEC will add to the existing platform capability will significantly enhance the group’s capabilities to provide a highly portable AUV system on a global basis,” Hughes said.
“Its a real win-win,” Trembanis added. “For us, our students and staff get a connection to a thriving industry. It also means exposure to cutting-edge projects in a variety of fields, some very valuable experiences for students, and revenue to build up our AUV.”
This week, graduate student Adam Skarke traveled with the device to London for the Oceanology International meeting, where he is serving as UD’s liaison in the partnership’s initiation.
Known more affectionately as Dora (short for Delaware Oceanographic Research Autonomous underwater vehicle), the AUV is approximately 9 feet long and weighs about 176 pounds. It uses sonar sensors and other gauges to gather all types of vital information such as acoustic “pictures” and water quality data such as salinity and temperature.
The beauty of Dora, Trembanis said, is a design that lets researchers swap out its sensor modules depending on the kind of data they want to collect.
“A lot of AUVs are already doing survey applications in deep waters, but they are school bus sized,” Trembanis said. “We’re talking about a completely different approach, a very small, modular device that can go anywhere in the world and can operate in very shallow waters.”
Thanks to all those useful characteristics, Dora is shaping up to be a very busy AUV.
Since its acquisition in 2008, Dora has been used to study everything from coral reefs off the Caribbean island of Bonaire to underwater habitats in Delaware Bay. Undergraduates studying abroad in New Zealand during the 2010 Winter Session helped deploy it on missions studying algal blooms, and high school students in CEOE’s TIDE Camp last summer launched it in Delaware Bay to study the seafloor.
Trembanis explained that partnerships like the one with UTEC not only contribute to Dora’s success, but also to the goals of the university.
“These partnerships really relate to the Path to Prominence in that we’re developing alliances between industry and academia, and leveraging the resources they have with the ideas and ingenuity that we have,” Trembanis said. “It’s really exciting stuff.”