Industrie & Technologies : A6K, the Ifremer’s autonomous robot which plunges to 6000 meters
Published on Industrie & Technologies, January 2017
Written by Philippe PASSEBON
A6K, the autonomous robot of Ifremer which plunges to 6000 meters
In the framework of the "Alliance for the Development of Offshore Submarine Robotics" project (the AL Alliance CORAL), Ifremer has entrusted the development of a new type of autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) To ECA Group, already a designer of robotic solutions for many industrial sectors. The goal of the CORAL Alliance project? Promote innovation and competitiveness in an integrated concept, combining marine science and maritime industry. Her first baby is this latest generation AUV, entitled A6K, designed for acoustic mapping and optical inspections. An AUV is distinguished from the ROV (remotely operated vehicle) because it is autonomous, whereas a ROV is tele-operated, that is to say remotely controlled by an operator.
The last innovative robot presented by Ifremer dates from 2015 and was called Ariane. This robot, which could dive at 2,500 meters, could switch from remote mode to a stand-alone mode thanks to an optical fiber linking it to the boat. A6K is totally autonomous and without any cable. To carry out its missions of exploration and to approach as close as possible to the bottom of the sea, the robot is equipped with a battery which gives it a autonomy of several days. Although the robot is able to communicate with the surface by acoustic communication, but not in real time, and only a few data can be exchanged.
At 600 bar, protect the electronics from pressure
"At 6,000 meters, the robot can reach all submarine depths," explains Ewen Raugel, an engineer at Ifremer's Underwater Systems Unit. It will join Victor and Nautile, the other two Ifremer machines capable of going up to 6,000 meters depth, but less free because still held by a power cable and communication with the surface, from where they Are remotely operated. If there are other AUVs marketed by manufacturers capable of going down so low, this new robot is tailor-made for Ifremer's mapping needs and will be able to stay in "hover" mode - to keep a fixed point, to approach up to 5 or 10 meters from the bottom, and take correct photographs. "We are able to add more and more intelligence to submarine robots," Eau Raugel said. We rely on the autonomy functions developed more widely in the robotic community."
In front of the autonomy and the communication, the gigantic pressure of 600 bars exerted on A6K is by far the most demanding constraint on the equipment. "The pressure totally limits the architecture of the submarine robot," says Raugel. The electronic part, where the robot's intelligence is, is the most sensitive. It is protected from pressure by titanium enclosures, the material that offers the best weight / resistance ratio at this depth. We also look at lithium-ion batteries that are resistant to such pressure."
Mining and Pipeline Inspection
After a three-year development period, A6K will conduct its first dives in 2019. "The association between long-endurance cartography and stationary overflight capabilities will have great potential in various application areas, A future commercialization by ECA Group. The capabilities of the AUV system, entitled A6K, are particularly attractive for missions such as deep-sea mining, oil / gas pipeline inspections, rescue missions and exploration of mineral resources, "points out Claude Cazaoulou, Commercial and Business Development Director of ECA Group, Robotics division in Toulon.