IIT Madras develops indigenous solar-powered, autonomous survey vessel

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Engineers at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Madras have developed a solar-powered vessel to survey India’s ports and inland waterways. The USV (unmanned surface vessel) is capable of undertaking hydrographic and oceanographic surveys, while providing real-time data about its environment.

According to IIT, it is equipped with an echo sounder for depth measurements and an onboard GPS system for tracking, and a 360° camera and light detection and ranging (lidar) for topographical measurement can be added. It also has provisions to carry additional engineering and technical payloads, with the ability to measure incoming and passing water currents in the future.

The craft was developed by a research team at the National Technology Centre for Ports, Waterways and Coasts (NTCPWC), the technology arm of the Ministry of Shipping, in IIT Madras. The institute notes it is already in the process of commercializing and licensing this technology with the help of the ministry and the IIT Madras Incubation Cell. The vehicle is expected to be operational in early 2021.

“This is a significant leap toward indigenization of the Indian maritime sector, which is currently dominated by foreign technology,” said K Murali, head of Department of Ocean Engineering at IIT-Madras. “The craft is capable of delivering precise and accurate depth measurements even in very shallow waters. This autonomous survey craft will help to meet the increasing demands for volume and efficiency as ships are becoming larger, with maximum loading to ensure most efficient operations.”

The research team spent two years developing the project with physical testing taking place over an eight-month period. The vehicle, which measures 4.5 x 3m with a double hull, will be available to port authorities for use, along with accompanying services from the NTCPWC if needed.

“Ports like the ones in Cochin and Kolkata require constant monitoring to facilitate safe passage of ships,” explained Dr D Kumaran Raju, principal scientist, NTCPWC. “These survey boats carry out necessary measurements needed for the process, and these autonomous vehicles can make the process much quicker, without hindering passing ships that would otherwise require clearing the way.”

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Lawrence has been covering engineering subjects – with a focus on motorsport technology – since 2007 and has edited and contributed to a variety of international titles. Currently, he is responsible for content across UKI Media & Events' portfolio of websites while also writing for the company's print titles.

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