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Ref.: MTS/IEEE Oceans'2016, Shanghai (China), April 2016.
The WiMUST (Widely scalable Mobile Underwater Sonar Technology) project [1-2] aims at expanding and improving the functionalities of current cooperative marine robotic systems, effectively enabling distributed acoustic array technologies for geophysical surveying with a view to exploration and geotechnical applications. Recent developments have shown that there is vast potential for groups of marine robots acting in cooperation to drastically improve the methods available for ocean exploration and exploitation. Traditionally, seismic reflection surveying is performed by vessel towed streamers of hydrophones acquiring reflected acoustic signals generated by acoustic sources (either towed or onboard a vessel). In this context, geotechnical surveying for civil and commercial applications (e.g., underwater construction, infrastructure monitoring, mapping for natural hazard assessment, environmental mapping, etc.) aims at seafloor and sub-bottom characterization using towed streamers of fixed length that are extremely cumbersome to operate. The vision underlying the WiMUST project is that of developing advanced cooperative and networked control / navigation systems to enable a large number (tens) of marine robots (both on the surface and submerged) to interact by sharing information as a coordinated team (not only in pairs). The WiMUST system may be envisioned as an adaptive variable geometry acoustic array. By allowing the group of surface and submerged vehicles to change their geometrical configuration, an end-user can seamlessly change the geometry of the ”virtual streamer” trailing the emitter, something that has not been achieved in practice and holds potential to drastically improve ocean surveying. The project brings together a group of research institutions, geophysical surveying companies and SMEs with a proven track record in autonomous adaptive and robust systems, communications, networked cooperative control and navigation, and marine robot design and fabrication.
The project has been favorably evaluated by the European Community within the H2020 strategic objective ICT-23-2014 - Robotics , action type H2020 - RIA - Research and Innovation Action. The action activities started on February 1st, 2015 and are planned to span a 36 month period. The project consortium is composed of nine partners: 4 academic institutions and 5 industrial companies from Italy, United Kingdom, Portugal, Germany, France and The Netherlands.
The objective of this paper is to briefly describe the advancements made from the beginning of the action in terms of the methodological and technological points of view. In particular the paper will summarize the main results so far achieved achieved in the following areas: (i) underwater navigation exploiting single range measurements, (ii) AUV cooperative motion control, (iii) underwater communications for networking and clock synchronization, (iv) distributed sensor array for geotechnical and geophysical applications and (v) mission planning.