ALPENA – Autonomous underwater vehicles can do a lot for research, including searching for shipwrecks at the bottom of Thunder Bay’s National Marine Sanctuary.
Researchers from the University of Michigan, Michigan Technological University and Louisiana State University were in Alpena last week using these underwater robots to obtain images of existing shipwrecks and in the hope to find more.
Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary is home to nearly 100 known shipwrecks, with about 100 more waiting to be discovered.
“We have a NOAA-funded project here to get to the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary with our autonomous underwater vehicles,” said Katie Skinner, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan’s Institute of Robotics and at the Department of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering. “The main objective of the project is to develop methods to automatically process the data we bring back from these vehicles, so that we can more quickly detect wrecks or any unknown archaeological sites in the bay.”
NOAA stands for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“The goal is to increase the efficiency of processing the data we can collect autonomously, which would then reduce the cost of deploying these vehicles,” Skinner explained. “Right now we have to get out on the boat and sit down and still watch what they’re doing, to some extent. So we want to work on being able to just send them into the water and see what they come back with.
Two vehicles were used in last week’s search – Michigan Tech’s IVER AUV, and Dory and Nemo.
“We have two remote control vehicles, Dory and Nemo,” said Corina Varvalada of Louisiana State University in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering. “So with Dory, what we’re trying to do is make it self-sufficient by adding sensors, while keeping the cost low.”
She explained that master’s student Mason Pesson develops algorithms to help him navigate cluttered environments.
“So Nemo… has cameras on it, so we can collect more detailed images of the bay,” Varvalada continued. “And then we can create reconstructions. It collects images and sonar data and then we can process it. »
William Ard is also an LSU master’s student involved in the research project.
“The Sanctuary is thrilled to have scientists and researchers of this caliber here doing sanctuary science,” said Stephanie Gandulla, Resource Protection Coordinator for TBNMS. “We are here to protect the wrecks and the sanctuary. It’s a complete ecosystem, so part of our mission is to facilitate research and science like this, and hopefully uncover shipwrecks.
Guy Meadows is the founding director of the Great Lakes Research Center at Michigan Technological University. He explained a bit more about IVER AUV.
“Being an old man, I actually worked here before it was the sanctuary,” Meadows said with a chuckle. “I’ve been doing this for 45 years.
He said the IVER is a utility vehicle that you can buy, made by a company in Massachusetts.
“It has very sophisticated side-scan sonar,” he noted. “It’s the main instrument we use to detect these shipwrecks.”
Meadows works closely with Jamey Anderson, deputy director of the Great Lakes Research Center at Michigan Technological University.
“Jamey put a pinger, and that gives us up to a year to find him if he doesn’t come home,” Meadows noted.
“It pings sound, and we can find it with a hyrophone,” Anderson said.
“It’s designed to have near-neutral buoyancy,” Meadows said. “So it weighs about the same as water, so it barely floats, and then those fins are how it steers, and the repellent is how it moves through water. It’s moving about three miles an hour, and then as it does, the sonar is working, it’s looking at more than a football field, either side of the vehicle, and it’s mapping out what’s downstairs.