Center de Toulon-La Seyne
Zone Portuaire de Bregaillon
B.P. 330-83507 La Seyne-sur-mer

Date Visited: May 14, 1993

Report Author: A. Kalvaitis



A. Kalvaitis
M. Lee


Jean-Louis Michel; Program Manager, Undersea Intervention Dept.
Jean-Francois Drogou; Undersea Engineering and Technology Dept., Project Manager 6,000 m ROV
Jean-Francois Cadiou; Head of Underwater Computers Group
Dr. Vincent Rigaud; Head, Robotics and Artificial Intelligence


The French Research Institute for the Exploitation of the Sea, or IFREMER, is a government agency with scientific, industrial, and commercial roles, and acts on behalf of the French government to direct, fund, and promote ocean research and development. It has a budget of approximately $160 million (1992), with 1,200 personnel at five centers (Boulogne-sur-Mer, Brest, Nantes, Toulon, and Tahiti). IFREMER has responsibilities that are evenly split between applied research projects and operations.

Underwater intervention and instrumentation are recognized as major themes in IFREMER's strategic plan. The institute's successful program in manned underwater vehicles, such as the Cyana and Nautile, has allowed France the capability of carrying out research and projects at water depths to 6,000 m. Other undersea capabilities include the Sar, a 6,000 m deep towed side scan system, which provides high resolution data for bottom acoustic imagery and subbottom profiling. In addition, IFREMER has created two research laboratories for robotics and underwater acoustics that have been associated with outside laboratories to stimulate progress in applied research in key areas of underwater intervention.


In addition to manned submersibles, IFREMER has been developing remotely operated vehicle capabilities. To maintain European leadership in deep ocean activities, a feasibility study has been underway since 1991 for the development of a 6,000 m science-dedicated ROV. Total costs are estimated at $7 million, not including manpower resources. The present schedule includes completion of conceptual studies (1993), subsystem design (1994), and system integration and sea trials in mid 1996. Although several 6,000 m ROVs are available commercially, IFREMER feels that better control is exercised by conducting the project internally. Also, since it is a science ROV, the institute has direct communication with the research community. Specific features include a 20 mm fiber optic cable, 20 kw, 400 Hz, and a 300 m tether with two different down weights. The ROV motors will be oil compensated, and the electronics will be in pressure housings. Three different tool sleds will be progressively developed for biology, geology, and sensor packages. The ROV will have two manipulators and six thrusters at 5 hp each. It will utilize two VME computers running VXworks real-time operating system, one on the ship and the other on the ROV. Vehicle tracking will be conducted using a combination of an ultra-short baseline system in conjunction with a long baseline system.

IFREMER is also a major partner in a MAST II (Marine Science and Technology) cooperative European project for the development of key technologies for a 6,000 m Abyssal Survey Vehicle (ASV). This is an autonomous, self-powered vehicle for the surveying and mapping of deep ocean regions. The program is headed by the United Kingdom's Institute of Oceanographic Sciences (IOS), and includes partners from France (ECA and INRIA), the United Kingdom (DRA), Greece (University of Athens), and Portugal (Hydrographic Institute). The project's feasibility study is scheduled for completion in 1995, and includes a succinct preliminary design. Total funding is approximately $2.5 million. The vehicle will use carbon fiber pressure housings instead of syntactic foam. The projected range is 200 km at 2 m/sec, and it will be able to survey a 5,400 m wide swath. The overall program objective is to develop a cost-effective autonomous vehicle to survey the deep ocean regions. Specific performance objectives include: independence from support ship during survey; submergence time in excess of 20 hours; 200 km survey range per dive; and deployment from existing vessels. Monitoring of the data quality could be done using a French acoustic transmission system, TIVA, at up to 20 kbits. The ASV will be designed to provide bathymetry and imagery concurrently. IFREMER's scientists believe that key technologies include guidance (automation and mission planning), energy sources, navigation, and pressure housings.

Also described in detail was the IFREMER program in software and control of future undersea vehicles, such as the 6,000 m ROV, which is presently under study. A test bed vehicle called VORTEX (Versatile Open Subsea Robot for Technical Experiments) has been constructed, and allows the demonstration and verification of ROV controls. VORTEX has six thrusters, sonars, and a video camera, and is in transition to AUV sensor based control of stationary and moving objects. The team was given a demonstration that verified three modes of operation: (1) manual; (2) PIRAT (control software developed by IFREMER); or (3) by directly entering PILI (standard interface language). There exists a capability to pilot the VORTEX vehicle remotely from Brest or Sophia using Internet.

Other subsea research and development activities include: acoustic data transmission, acoustic determination of seabed characteristics, array processing (tomography), very low frequency transducers, autonomous piloting, man-machine interface, teleprogramming, materials, and hydrodynamics. The last two activities are being conducted at the Brest Center.

In conclusion, IFREMER provides France with the capability to conduct undersea research and intervention activities up to 6,000 m. IFREMER has maintained a level of excellence in technology development and research that serves the science community, equipment manufacturers, and facilities companies.


IFREMER. Annual Report. Department of Undersea Engineering and Technology. Toulon and Brest. This report contains detailed publications listings; the report is in French. 1991.

IFREMER. Annual Report. 1991.

IFREMER. Annual Report. 1992.

Published: June 1994; WTEC Hyper-Librarian