Adaptive Autonomous Ocean Sampling Networks Project Brief

Adaptive Autonomous Ocean Sampling Networks
Project Brief
The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) has launched a Small Business Research Initiative
(SBRI) competition, in partnership with the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) and
the Technology Strategy Board (TSB), to assess and develop, novel adaptive autonomous ocean
sampling network (AOSN) management systems; these systems will be capable of coordinating a
suite of marine autonomous systems (MAS), enabling the gathering of data from the ocean over
periods of several months and the ability to track and sample dynamic features. The target ocean
observation feature for this project is oceanic fronts, but we seek network management
architectures that can be applied to sampling of other dynamic features such as phytoplankton
blooms, deep-sea hydrothermal vents, large and mesoscale oceanic eddies, oil spills, dye clouds,
cetaceans, fish, and biofluorescent clouds, such as those highlighted in the Marine Strategy
( ). Also it should be capable of following linear features such as ice edges or
seabed topographic scarps.
A wide range of low power sensors now exists to make the measurements, and appropriate satellite
navigation tools are readily available. Satellite communications for command and control, and for
data transfer to shore, are now routine. Furthermore, NERC’s new MAS capability will see vehicles
deployed in the open ocean for periods of several months.
NERC seeks applications to first assess the viability of rugged, robust and reliable solutions for an
AOSN management system capable of coordinating a fleet of MAS. Competition criteria will consider
the appropriateness of the technical approach, the degree of innovation, and how this is balanced
against project risk, the technical and commercial viability, and the appropriateness of the financial
and project management arrangements.
The competition will run in two phases: Phase 1 will open on 2 September 2014 for feasibility
studies, with contracts to be awarded, for those selected, in mid December 2014 and completed by
31 March 2015. This call will fund up to five Phase 1 studies up to a cost including VAT of £50,000
each. After reviewing the outcomes of the Phase 1 studies, selected participants will be invited to
apply for Phase 2 for the development of prototypes, which would be capable of undertaking
demonstration missions at sea. It is expected that phase 2 will be in the region of £1.2M and
available for up to two selected projects.
SBRI is a mechanism that enables public sector bodies to connect with innovative ideas and
technology businesses to provide novel solutions to specific public sector challenges and needs.
The public sector is able to find innovative solutions by reaching out to companies from different
sectors, including small and emerging businesses. New technical solutions are created through
accelerated technology development, whilst risk is reduced through a phased development
programme. SBRI also provides business with a transparent, competitive, and reliable source of
early‐stage funding.
The SBRI scheme is particularly suited to small and medium‐sized business, as the contracts are of
relatively small value and operate on short timescales. Developments are 100% funded and focused
on specific identified needs, increasing the chance of exploitation. Suppliers for each project will be
selected through an open competition process and retain the intellectual property generated from
the project, with certain rights of use retained by the contracting public agency. This is an excellent
opportunity to establish an early customer for a new technology and to fund its development.
SBRI is championed by the Technology Strategy Board (TSB). For further details please visit the TSB
The Natural Environment Research Council
The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) delivers independent research, survey, training
and knowledge transfer in the environmental sciences, to advance knowledge of planet Earth as a
complex, interacting system. The remit covers atmospheric, earth, biological, terrestrial and aquatic
sciences, from the deep oceans to the upper atmosphere, and from the poles to the equator.
NERC’s mission is to gather and apply knowledge, create understanding and predict the behaviour of
the natural environment and its resources, and communicate all aspects of the science. The funding,
administrative and corporate activities are run from offices in Swindon. NERC funds research in
universities and in six research centres. The latter are owned by NERC and the staff working there
are NERC employees. Several more centres around the country work in partnership with NERC to
carry out research as needed. NERC provides high‐technology research facilities including research
ships and aircraft, analytical facilities, satellite data processing, supercomputers and pools of
specialist equipment. NERC have set up a series of data centres to hold and manage NERC data.
As part of its strategy for national capability, NERC has identified the need to identify, develop and
adapt new technologies for collecting environmental data. Predictive earth system models are
undergoing a step change in capability, driven by both advances in computational technologies and
by improved knowledge of the processes and interactions in the real world and their simulation
within the models. However, predictive models need real data to provide the initial conditions and
to ensure the outputs of the models represent reality.
The Technology Strategy Board
The Technology Strategy Board (TSB) is the UK’s innovation agency. Its goal is to accelerate
economic growth by stimulating and supporting business‐led innovation. Sponsored by the
Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), the TSB brings together business, research and
the public sector, supporting and accelerating the development of innovative products and services
to meet market needs, tackle major societal challenges and help build the future economy.
The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory
Dstl is the UK government’s in-house defence science and technology (S&T) organisation, working
with industry, academia and international partners to deploy and deliver advances in military
capability, support government decision-making and insure against current and future threats and
risks. Dstl provides professional in-house expertise and leads the defence and security S&T
community to develop and employ the capabilities needed to implement the National Security
Strategy and the Strategic Defence and Security Review. The mission of Dstl is to maximise the
impact of science and technology for the defence and security of the UK. This includes research,
advice, consultancy, technical and systems risk management and related activities as well as social
science, mathematics and engineering.
As part of its work to deliver advances in military capability within the maritime environment, Dstl
has identified unmanned surface vehicles and other unmanned platforms as having the potential to
support the delivery of a range of military capabilities. In several areas the speed, endurance and
persistence of current autonomous systems limits the scope of tasks that could be provided by
future unmanned platforms, hence our interest in new concepts for long endurance unmanned
surface vehicles.
The concept of AOSN was introduced two decades ago1 but to date there are very few AOSNs in
operation. The AOSN concept leverages MAS and dynamic models to observe and predict dynamic
ocean fields. Several experiments have been carried out in the USA2 and Europe to demonstrate the
feasibility of these systems. The implementation of persistent AOSN has been hindered by the
uncertainty in the environment and financial consequences of loss. With the increased availability of
high-resolution ocean models and increased reliability of autonomous underwater vehicles, it is now
feasible to develop and integrate software based system architectures to implement and manage
New and novel network management approaches for coordinating an AOSN, consisting of NERC’s
suite of Autonomous Surface Vehicles (ASVs), are sought. We encourage new and fresh lines of
thought: ideas that bring technologies to bear from outside the marine sector, and ideas that exploit
other instruments and platforms that are used by NERC such as seabed landers, autonomous
underwater vehicles and submarine gliders. The proposed network management architecture should
be modular and scalable to different configurations. We seek solutions that will enable NERC ASVs to
detect and track an oceanic front, marked by sharp changes in temperature, density and biological
communities. A network management system that allows the specification of a formation of ASVs is
welcomed. We encourage solutions that can be applied to track other dynamic features as outlined
In 2014 the NERC ASV fleet comprises of several types of vehicles, including Liquid Robotics
Wavegliders, ASV C-Enduro and MOST Autonaut. These vehicles meet different specifications but as
an example they will have a cruise speed between 2.5-4.0 knots in sea state 3, a maximum payload
of 30 kgs and a mast with a height between 2-2.6m. All vehicles have an autopilot and mission
management systems, details of which can be provided upon request.
In Phase 1, the applicants should provide details concerning systems and methods for data
communications and management. We would welcome solutions that will enable the transfer
images.. Details of the models proposed for supporting AOSN decision-making should be defined
and tested in a simulation environment.
For the purpose of Phase 1 the indicative mission endurance is to be 15 days. The concept is to
deploy a suite of MAS to detect and track a dynamic feature, whilst maintaining a specific formation.
A list of testing scenarios required in Phase 2 is presented in Table 1. Recognising the critical
importance of providing sufficient energy for propulsion, solutions that obtain the optimum path for
each scenario are encouraged.
How the applicants intend to provide the AOSN management system with appropriate command
and control capability should be described. To enable the reliability quantification of the proposed
solution the adaptive behaviour of AOSN must be captured, e.g. in a state flow diagram. Given that
Curtin T., Bellingham, B.G. Progress toward autonomous ocean sampling networks. Deep-Sea Research II
(56), 62-67, 2009.
the vehicles will need to operate outside of shore‐based cellular phone systems, we expect
applicants to provide details of the robustness of the communication systems.
Table 1. List of Phase 2 scenarios.
Scenarios of interest
1. Cetacean tracking.
2. Follow a tidal-mixing front,
separating tidally mixed
and seasonally stratified
shelf waters, each with
markedly different physical
Test strategy and
Marine Autonomous Systems
Follow a target MAS,
equipped with an active
sonar ping mimicking
cetacean clicks.
Surface vehicles (C-Enduro,
Autonaut or wave gliders),
Autosub Long Range, or other
Track the target front, to
vehicles (Gavia, Remus, Hugin,
crossings (surface and
subsurface) across a
broad area.
3. Identify source of a single To be simulated by a dye
point leak, such as a surface release.
oil spill.
4. Tagged fish tracking
Record tagged fish within
combination with a
5. Seabed swath mapping
Follow and map a
prominent topographic
feature, e.g. canyon wall,
rocky reef.
For phase 2, for scenarios 1 to 3, the sea trials are envisaged to take place off the coast of the Scilly
Isles. For scenarios 4 to 5, the sea trials are envisaged to take place off the coast of Plymouth. These
tests will be supported using NERC’s National Marine Facilities Equipment. A number of sensors will
be made available for the demonstration phase. The list of sensors is presented in Annex A of the
brief, document reference SBRI_NERC-AOSN_002-Brief_ AnnexA-V3.
The competition is open to any eligible organisation that can demonstrate a route to market.
Collaboration is encouraged; the emphasis should be on innovation and rapid demonstration of
new capability. Consequently, Phase 1 can include tangible results of experiments or trials, and
should not be just a desk study.
Interested companies can find full details of the application process at
Bids should be made using the Application Form, which can also be accessed from . Queries can be sent to sbri‐[email protected] .
KEY DATES Phase 1 (design/feasibility study)
Competition Launch
2 September 2014
Deadline for applications
Noon on 31 October 2014
20 November 2014
Applicants notified of decision
25 November 2014
Phase 1 Contracts awarded
mid December 2014
Phase 1 Contracts to end
31 March 2015
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