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Quebec Bulletin
August-September 2017/Volume 20/Number 4

Hydrography: a Real Revolution in Perspective

Photo showing one of the two autonomous hydrographic surface vehicles (catamaran-style) with a technician on the water
One of the two autonomous hydrographic surface vehicles performing tests.

The Canadian Hydrographic Service's (CHS's) acquisition of two autonomous hydrographic surface vehicles in the spring of 2017 could very well be a revolution. These jewels of technology make it possible to design the hydrography of tomorrow... today!

What is an autonomous hydrographic surface vehicle?
A hydrographic surface vehicle is used for hydrographic surveys to obtain information about the seabed, such as the bathymetry (depth) and the nature of sediments. These data are then analyzed and incorporated into various products, particularly marine charts to enable safe commercial and recreational navigation.

The feature that makes the two new vehicles special, besides the fact that they are catamarans, is their autonomy. There is no need for a crew or hydrographers on board. These 2.5-metre long vessels can achieve a speed of 5 knots and travel autonomously thanks to software programmed on dry land. It is also possible to direct them using a remote control. These small, 100% electric catamarans include state-of-the-art instruments, such as a multi-beam echosounder, motion sensor, sound profiler placed on a programmable or remote winch, anti-collision and anti-grounding system, camera, and automated data processing on board. All this technology makes it possible to obtain data with a precision that is comparable to those acquired on board conventional craft.

Video showing tests performed with one of the two autonomous hydrographic surface vehicles

Why autonomous hydrographic surface vehicles?
The Canadian Hydrographic Service is a world leader in hydrography, always on the lookout for new technologies that can improve its services. The newly acquired autonomous vehicles are considered tools that will revolutionize the work of hydrographers. Indeed, the low draft of these vehicles allows them to access areas that were previously impossible to probe, safely, with traditional boats. The survey area will also be expanded by deploying the vehicles from another vessel, such as in the Arctic. Thus, the better the coverage of Canadian waters, the safer they will be.

And now?
For a week last spring, representatives from all Canadian Hydrographic Service offices met at the Maurice Lamontagne Institute in Mont-Joli to attend training on this new technology. After a busy week, the hydrographers returned to their respective offices with their heads full of ideas and projects that could be carried out using the two new vehicles. The CHS team in Mont-Joli led this national project. Projects will be conducted this year in the region to define the operating procedure and limitations of the vehicles. They will then be deployed across the country to fulfill the Canadian Hydrographic Service's mandate. This is a great opportunity to discover the hydrography of the future, today.

Ghislain Côté

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