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AUV sensor integration and science

Quantitative low-light imaging module for MBARI's AUV
Project Manager/Lead Scientist: Kim Reisenbichler
Lead Engineer: Ed Mellinger

One of the great successes of MBARIís midwater research program has been the creation of a time-series database from quantitative video transects of the mesopelagic environment. This is the first data set of its kind anywhere, and it has been acquired by using the unique resources that MBARI has at its disposal, readily available ships and remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) ported close to deep water. However, there are some limitations to conducting midwater transects with ROVs that can be overcome by adapting autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) technology for this task. The advantages of using an AUV in this role include: extending transect lengths; increasing functional transect depths; increasing the resolution of the transect depth profile and allowing for more extensive day/night comparisons. In addition, these advantages can be achieved at a lower platform cost in comparison with equivalent ROV operations. Imaging surveys are an ideal example of how AUV technology can have a significant impact on meso- and bathypelagic research at a relatively low development cost.

The goal of this two-year project will be to develop an AUV payload that is capable of imaging a known volume of water, with 1) sufficient sensitivity to detect stimulated bioluminescence, and 2) sufficient resolution to allow visual identification of animals, comparable to what we can currently achieve with MBARI ROVs. Due to differences in size and available power specifications of MBARIís ROVs and AUVs, this is not a simple issue of re-packaging an existing ROV video system to fit on an AUV. 

The first year of this project will be used to determine what combination of illumination sources, imaging system, data storage and vehicle configuration(s) will work best to achieve our goals. Because lights demand the most power in the existing video system, we intend to use a more sensitive camera that can operate with dimmer light sources. This has the additional advantage of making the system adaptable to bioluminescence transecting. The primary resources required during the first year will be engineering and science time to help make these assessments. In addition, we plan to test likely systems, as available, on the ROV Ventana during midwater ecology transecting operations. No major equipment purchases are planned for the first year. 

Based upon the results of our first yearís efforts, the second year will be devoted to detailed design, manufacture, integration and testing of the module on an AUV and validation of this system in comparison to ROV-based transecting. Although the main emphasis of this project is to develop a system for midwater imaging, we believe that the results of the first yearís research will also be useful for developing a benthic AUV imaging system, as well.