Bad weather can play havoc with unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) patrolling the seas, which is why scientists at the Universiti Malaysia Perlis (UniMAP) have come up with a USV prototype that works even when it tips over. Called Sea-Eye, the battery-powered vehicle features a design that enables it to work just as well upside down as right way up.
The Sea-Eye can be controlled in two ways. It can either be remotely controlled manually, or it can operate autonomously using GPS. The two-hulled catamaran-like design makes it more stable in the water than a single hull boat, but the most unique feature of its design is how it does away with the need for stabilization systems that are normally integrated into USVs to prevent them from capsizing.
"The speciality here is that it can move upside down," Muhammad Najib Khir Othman, one of its developers, tells Gizmag. "There are two sets of propellers, top and bottom, so when it flips over, the top propellers will switch off and the bottom ones will switch on automatically."
Currently, the prototype works up to a range of about 2 km (1.2 miles) from the base station and travels at a speed of 50-60 km/h (31-37 mph). However, the team says this can be improved upon with further development.
The battery-powered USV can be recharged using the onboard solar panels, helping ensure that it always has enough power to turn back. It can be programmed to navigate to a particular set of co-ordinates via GPS, with the operators aware of its location at all times as it continuously transmits its co-ordinates back to the base station.
Alternatively, it can be remotely operated via a joystick from the base station. An on-board sonar system helps it conduct underwater mine sweeps and it features dual day and night vision cameras that provide vision both under and over the water surface.
"We programmed it so that it would automatically return to the initial coordinates of where it took off, or 'return back home' when the vehicle was beyond range and lost the signal," explains Othman.
Its smaller frame is also said to make it ideal for search and rescue operations, surveillance and spy missions. "The Sea-Eye is about 80 percent smaller than other USVs in the world," Othman tells us. "It is easier for this USV to follow a suspicious ship without being detected."
As it's powered by an electric motor, it also produces very little noise, which gives it an added advantage when it needs to approach another boat covertly, according to its developers. Since it doesn't use a fuel engine, it's also claimed to be inexpensive to maintain and operate.
The team plans to commercialize the Sea-Eye after improving the camera, motors and its overall range and have already applied for a patent for the design. Further plans include enabling the Sea-Eye to be operated via smartphone.
The Sea-Eye is being developed at the UniMAP's Centre of Excellence for Unmanned Aerial Systems (CoEUAS) and was recently exhibited at the 25th International Innovation and Technology Exhibition (ITEX) at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Center in Malaysia.
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