A Framework for the Design of Renewably Powered Offshore AUV Servicing Platforms

Maha Haji1, Johannes Norheim1 and Olivier L de Weck2, (1)Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, United States, (2)Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, United States
Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) offer the ability to provide persistent and expanded ocean observations and measurements. The battery capacity of AUVs, however, currently limits the range and duration of missions. Meanwhile, sensor payload and ocean measurement resolution are limited by data storage capacity onboard AUVs. These limitations necessitate that AUVs be frequently recovered to recharge and offload data, a process that often requires the assistance of a support vessel and crew and can cost over $30,000 a day. The Platform for Expanding AUV exploRation to Longer ranges (PEARL) detailed in this talk aims to extend the range and endurance of AUVs (e.g. from 8 to 240 hours), while reducing data latency and operating costs.

PEARL is an integrated autonomous floating docking station that simultaneously provides AUV battery recharging and data uplink via the new generation of high-bandwidth low-Earth orbit (LEO) constellations (OneWeb, Starlink, Iridium NEXT). PEARL could ensure worldwide connectivity and control of AUVs, allowing for near-real-time underwater data from across the globe. The current design utilizes solar power paired with integrated battery modules, allowing PEARL to harvest power during daytime hours, resulting in reliable, on-demand recharging of vehicles and data transfer, effectively extending AUV endurance and return.

This talk details a framework for the co-optimization of the design and operation of underwater, surface, and space assets, which enable PEARL to overcome some of the past limitations in AUV servicing platforms. The co-design framework presented includes systems for on-board renewable energy generation and satellite data transfer, and can be modified to servicing platforms using ocean renewable energy such as power from waves, tides, currents, or winds. Platforms like PEARL could enable AUVs to provide increased and reliable scientific data key to the sustainable growth of the Nation’s Blue Economy.