OceanScan – Marine Systems & Technology is a European manufacturer of light autonomous underwater vehicles (LAUVs). Founder and managing partner Alexandre Sousa discuses the company’s diverse offering, its key products, and how it stays ahead in a competitive and constantly changing business environment.

When was the company set up, and how did you get into the business of LAUVs?

Alexandre Sousa: Marine Systems & Technology is a young and independent company, founded as a spin-off of the Underwater Systems and Technology Laboratory at the University of Porto, Portugal. Since 2008, its mission covers the design, development and commercialisation of innovative systems for oceanographic surveys, environmental monitoring and underwater inspection applications.

We offer an important contribution to the segment of lightweight, low-logistic and cost-effective AUVs. As its main product, OceanScan-MST offers the LAUV, which was specifically designed to be an affordable, lightweight vehicle that can be easily launched, operated and recovered with a minimal operational set-up by end-users coming from heterogeneous backgrounds, without complex prior training or know-how.

What are some of your newer options, such as the Teledyne BlueView MB and Teledyne RDI DVL?

These two new options were successfully integrated into the LAUV. Combined with the dual frequency, high-resolution side-scan sonar (SSS) from L3-Klein, and with a tactical grade inertial navigation system, the LAUV is now able to run sonar surveys with 100% coverage, since the multibeam (MB) and SSS data are merged to give the user a complete sonar image with the nadir gap filled.

The amount of data gathered during a mission is huge. To save download time, the data is stored in a standard pen drive that the user can exchange for an empty one at the end of one mission and check the data collected during execution of the next mission.

What are the key features and options you offer?

The LAUV can be understood as a platform that has the capacity to navigate autonomously in the water column.

In its basic configuration, it will navigate under water autonomously, but you will not collect any useful data. Depending on the application you are looking for, the vehicle can be equipped with specific sonars and sensors to fulfil the application needs. Extra navigation, communication and safety options are also available.

For the basic configuration, you get a fully functional system, equipped with a basic navigation module (GPS, AHRS and depth sensor) and a basic communication stack (Wi-Fi and GSM module), with an endurance up to eight hours at 3kT, a depth range of 100m and 4kT of maximum speed. The vehicle can then be equipped with extra options, such as high-resolution SSS from well-known sonar manufactures, single and multibeam echo-sounders, a high-sensitivity digital video camera equipped with LEDs, a sound velocity sensor, conductivity, temperature and depth (CTD), dissolved oxygen and optic sensors (turbidity and a wide range of florescence parameters), pH and other environmental and oceanographic sensors.

What products do you have in development?

DSG Products is constantly working with suppliers to identify developments that improve performance or deliver new capabilities. These include silencers, grenade launchers, helmets and red dot sights. DSG Technology has patented an underwater gun mount design, which enables any standard weapon to be used under water at depths up to 600m, and there are some exciting opportunities emerging for that in conjunction with our underwater ammunition. Of course, as a developer of a unique type of ammunition, there are always new applications being developed, but you’ll have to wait to find out more about those.

What are some of its key uses?

Navies and research institutions are probably the main users of this AUV, with different applications in mind. Anyway, we are aiming for a continuous and sustained presence in the ocean. The LAUV concept is based on the following key ideas: lightweight/small size, affordable, robust and reliable, low logistics, modular design and open system.

Could you tell us about the results of some of your past missions and demos in Ustica, Italy, and Cadiz, Spain?

Last August, we went to Ustica to collect MB data. The data collected by the LAUV is being used to produce maps that chart the contours, depths and hardness of the ocean floor in the study area, along with data gathered in the field by scuba divers (ground truth) to create maps of the habitats of the Ustica ocean floor. The data, collected by the LAUV, will be combined with other geo-datasets to create a geographic information system (GIS) of the area that may be in critical need of protection or special environmental management protection. This work is part of the Monitoring Mediterranean Marine Protected Areas (MMMPA) project, led by Professor Carlo Cerrano at the Università Politecnica delle Marche, Italy.

In May 2013, a local demo was performed for several Spanish institutions and companies, including the Spanish Hydrographic Institute. The demo took place at Base Naval de Puntales, and the LAUV was used to map the harbour seafloor. The LAUV was equipped with an SSS and a MB echo-sounder. The audience had the opportunity to understand the LAUV operation, and some had the chance to operate the LAUV.

There’s a big market for AUVs – what makes yours particularly innovative?

We offer a complete and competitive system. The command and control unit, named NEPTUS, is quite easy to operate and provides support for all the different stages of the mission life cycle, such as configuration, planning, simulation, execution and post-mission analysis. NEPTUS provides a distributed command and control user interface specifically tailored to the operation of one or more LAUVs. We also think another innovative aspect is the way the entire payload is integrated in the command and control unit. The user does not need to use third-party software to configure or review the data gathered by the sonar and sensors installed in the vehicle.

It’s also worth mentioning that we offer the most comprehensive list of options for such a small sized AUV, including state-of-the-art navigation solutions and world-class sonars.