Ship Hull and Infrastructure Inspection
Inspecting ship hulls and other infrastructure has long been one of the most manpower intensive and time consuming tasks that divers must routinely perform, for both security and husbandry purposes. The US Navy Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (UUV) Master Plan restates claims from the Navy Safety Center Diver Data Base that, “The demand for security swims around piers and hulls has resulted in over a six-fold increase in these diver operations since the events of September 11, 2001." The Master Plan also identified three key missions: “(1) rapid hull search and target localization, (2) harbor area search and target localization, and (3) open water search and target localization.” Explosive Ordnance Disposal personnel are increasingly tasked to perform other, more urgent duties. Unmanned systems are a logical choice to conduct the more mundane hull and infrastructure inspections.
As the quintessential “dull, dirty and dangerous” job, hull inspection is an opportunity to apply fairly mature AUV technologies to an existing requirement. Unlike a diver who relies on physical contact with the hull because of limited visibility, a hovering AUV can provide total hull coverage in any turbidity condition. The Bluefin HAUV was initially developed for the US Navy as a small and relatively low-cost autonomous vehicle capable of precision maneuvering in very shallow water environments, with a focus on ship hull inspection primarily for Anti-Terrorism and Force Protection. The cascading applications such as maintenance and pierside survey, among others, make an excellent business case for continued development of the HAUV as a commercial product. The savings in cost, manpower, and time compared to traditional methods are realized almost immediately.