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SeaWASP: A Small Waterplane Area Twin Hull Autonomous Platform for Shallow Water Mapping

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Students with Santa Clara University (SCU) and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) are developing an innovative platform for shallow water bathymetry. Bathymetry data is used to analyze the geography, ecosystem, and health of marine habitats. Current methods for shallow water measurements typically involve large manned vessels that are costly to operate and that may pose a danger to themselves and the environment in shallow, semi-navigable waters. Small vessels, however, are prone to disturbances by shallow water waves, tides, and currents, thereby requiring more instrumentation and computation to accurately process bathymetric data. The SCU/MBARI autonomous surface vessel, SeaWASP, is designed to operate safely and stably in waters as shallow as 1 m without significant manned support in order to produce cost-effective and high-quality bathymetric maps.

The SeaWASP design introduces several key design innovations in order to provide high-quality maps with a platform that is safe, stable, and inexpensive. A small waterplane area twin hull (SWATH) design features a submerged dual hull, a small waterplane area, and a high mass-to-damping ratio, thereby making the craft less prone to disturbances. Precision sensing, autonomous control, and platform-level configuration planning and control algorithms are used to navigate the boat along desirable trajectories in support of efficient map generation and to implement low-cost unpiloted operations. Bathymetry is measured with multibeam sonar in concert with Doppler Velocity Logger and GPS sensors.

The vessel has been operated successfully in several open water test environments, including Elkhorn Slough, Steven’s Creek Reservoir, and Lake Tahoe, all in California. It is currently in the final stages of integration and test for its first major science mission at Orcas Island, San Juan Islands, WA, in 2009. Final deployment will be at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA’s) Kasitsna Bay Laboratory in Alaska as one element of a multi-system remote observatory.

SeaWASP has been developed in partnership with SCU, MBARI, the University of Alaska‐Fairbanks, and NOAA’s West Coast and Polar Regions Undersea Research Center.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2009-03-01

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  • The Marine Technology Society Journal is the flagship publication of the Marine Technology Society. It publishes the highest caliber, peer-reviewed papers on subjects of interest to the society: marine technology, ocean science, marine policy and education. The Journal is dedicated to publishing timely special issues on emerging ocean community concerns while also showcasing general interest and student-authored works.
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