Site: Heriot-Watt University
Department of Computing and
Electrical Engineering
Riccarton, Edinburgh
Scotland EH14 4A5
United Kingdom
Telephone: (44) 031-451-3329
Fax: (44) 031-451-3327

Date Visited: May 13, 1993

Report Author: L. Gentry



D. Blidberg
C. Brancart
L. Gentry
B. Mooney


CDR John Sampson (ONR Europe)


Professor George T. Russell; Head of Department
Dr. Robin M. Dunbar; Sr. Lecturer and Head of the Ocean Systems Laboratory
Robin T. Holmes; Senior Lecturer
Dr. David M. Lane; Lecturer
Ron McHugh; Lecturer
Michael J. Chantler; Lecturer
Dr. Laurie Linnett; Research Fellow and Head of Sonar Image Interpretation Group


Heriot-Watt University (HWU) has been involved with unmanned underwater vehicles since the early 1970s. Dr. Robin Dunbar and Dr. Robin Holmes were key to the development of the Angus class of remotely operated vehicles. Angus-1, the first deep diving ROV in Europe (>1,000 FSW) is a general purpose ROV used as an early test bed for a variety of underwater tasks and equipment under development at HWU. It was followed by Angus-2 and Angus-3, which were similar but improved ROVs also used in the HWU projects. HWU also built Rover, a small autonomous underwater vehicle that operated in coordinated tasks with Angus-3 and divers. Angus-4 was designed in the early 1980s, but was never built due to funding constraints that have continued to hinder further development of UUVs at HWU. Operation of Angus-3 has also been halted by funding constraints. Due to the lack of funding for development of UUVs, HWU has changed the development emphasis from vehicles to key UUV subsystems for ROV and AUV applications (e.g., acoustic and optic sensors, signal processing software, robotic systems, and knowledge-based systems). In line with this approach, the university has evolved a very capable set of laboratories to accomplish this objective.

Supporting the department's work are five laboratory complexes:

The WTEC team was most interested in research activities that were being conducted in the Ocean Systems Laboratory group headed by Dr. Dunbar; however, the team noted the good collaboration and synergy between laboratories for various projects. Dr. Russell's department also provides a full range of standard university curricula for computing and electrical engineering.

HWU's UUV-related work is fully funded for the next two years through the European Economic Community MAST program and the United Kingdom's Marine Technology Directorate research and development programs coordinated by the MTD office in Aberdeen (see separate site report on MTD).

Over the years, the type of funding available has been a problem for HWU. Most of the university's funding is earmarked for research. Thus when programs and projects reach a certain point in maturity, HWU is expected to seek alternate funding, generally from industry, to complete the work. It is difficult for the universities to obtain funding from industry. In the case of most projects, the universities' inability to acquire transition funding stops the work before the systems and components reach commercial usefulness. Nonetheless, HWU's accomplishments -- both in scope and depth -- are impressive.


The work in the Ocean Systems Laboratory was described in some detail. Then the team visited the labs to observe demonstrations of a variety of projects.

Subsea Robotics and Multisensor Fusion

The team witnessed a demonstration of two combined projects involving autonomous robotics and multisensor fusion. The robotics project led by Dr. David Lane is to develop autonomous interactive controls for two seven-function manipulators. The two arms are mounted on a wet test tank, and cooperative operation and mutual avoidance of the arms was demonstrated in water. In this demonstration, the two arms were programmed to operate in the same workspace without collision or interference. Mr. Michael Chantler's sensor fusion project has been coupled to the robotics development and will eventually include video and very high resolution sonar and laser triangulation sensors to provide reliable sensing in the manipulator's workspace. The sensor data alleviates the sensory deprivation typically experienced by operators of ROV manipulators. In the future there is the prospect of intelligent robotics able to autonomously visualize, plan and control manipulative tasks with a minimum of operator involvement. The work is at an early stage yet but is making good progress, and the demonstration was successful.

Advanced Manipulator for Deep Underwater Systems (AMADEUS) Project

The AMADEUS project is a joint project with the University of Genoa and the Italian Naval Automation Institute, and is funded by the European Economic Community as one of the MAST II initiatives. It is a five-year program to develop a highly dexterous, multifingered, hydraulic gripper. This gripper is to have position and force control and be suitable for attachment to a number of existing manipulators. The project will develop hardware and methodologies for grasping, simulation tools, and hardware and software for man-machine architectures. The result is to demonstrate a range of underwater grasping tasks using the robot arm that is being developed in the robotics project.

European Experimentally Validated Models for Acoustic Channels (EEVMAC) Project

The EEVMAC project is another cooperative EC-funded effort. The object is to gather acoustic data from a number of sources including the Firth of Forth, Loch Ness, and the Mediterranean Sea. The data will be used to validate acoustic propagation models and support design of high data rate acoustic communication systems for AUVs.

Forth Base Project

In conjunction with EEVMAC, HWU is developing the Firth of Forth as a communications test range. Acoustic instruments in the Forth will transmit and receive signals that are then carried by subsea cables to a new base at Leith Harbor. The signals are microwaved directly to the laboratory at HWU, allowing the range to be used in real-time testing and interaction between the scientist in the lab and the sensors in the field. This permits a real-time evaluation of communication signal propagation and system effectiveness. The range will be ready late this summer.

Other Projects

The team also visited Dr. Laurie Linnett's Image Processing Laboratory, where research projects related to interpretation and classification of sonar images are in progress. The lab is largely funded under the Technology for Unmanned Underwater Vehicles program managed by the Marine Technology Directorate (see separate MTD site visit report). One project is developing algorithms for rapid processing of entire side scan seabed surveys, using fractal techniques to characterize the seabed sediment textures and then employ probability statistics to identify abnormalities in the textures. In this way rapid processing of very large data sets can be achieved. Another project is developing real-time processing of side scan sonar data to locate unsupported sections of pipeline for the oil industry. A third group has been working on object detection algorithms for sonars for some time. The group has achieved excellent detection rates and is now focusing on improving detection of objects against different backgrounds and clutter. Other work in the lab is directed toward compression of sonar data to achieve manageable sized data sets from high-output, modern sonars. The results will allow more efficient storage, manipulation, and transmission of data for real-time operations. Yet another group is working on mathematical and graphical techniques for simulation of side scan sonars to better understand the sonar process and aid in the projects involved with acoustic detection and classification. Linnett's laboratory continues to do outstanding work that is well funded and recognized. The demonstrations were well organized and impressive, and it was obvious that the team of researchers are highly motivated and productive.


HWU has done outstanding work in many areas related to underwater vehicles and intelligent subsystems relating to robotics, acoustic imaging and communications. The university's program has the objective of integration of all these intelligent subsystems to accomplish useful demonstrations with ROVs and AUVs in the ocean environment. HWU has been one of the pioneering forces in the area of UUV systems for over two decades, and has a well deserved reputation for excellence.


Research Review and Postgraduate Prospectus

. Heriot-Watt University. Department of Computing and Electrical Engineering. Brochure.

Oceans Systems Laboratory. Overview brochure.

Advanced Manipulator for Deep Underwater Systems (AMADEUS). Brochure.

Heriot-Watt University Sonar Processing Research Group. Brochure.

Heriot-Watt University Department of Computing and Electrical Engineering. Brochure reviewing programs and laboratories.

Paul, J.G., R. McHugh, and S. Shaw. "The effect of DSP on the point spread function of a sonar beamformer." Heriot-Watt University.

McHugh, R., J.G. Paul, and S. Shaw. "A digital focused beamformer for sonar." Heriot- Watt University.

Dunbar, R., et al. "European Experimentally Validated Models for Acoustic Channels (EEVMAC)." Heriot-Watt University.

HWU; Department of Computing and Electrical Engineering: The Firth of Forth Estuary Research Programme. Brochure.

European Conference on Underwater Acoustics, edited by M. Weydert. Commission of the European Communities. Brussels, Belgium.

Dunbar, R.M., et al. "The Transmission of Fractally Coded Sonar Images by a Frequency-Hopped Acoustic Signal." Heriot-Watt University.

Sampson, J.A., CDR, U.S. Navy. "Technology for Unmanned Underwater Vehicles." Office of Naval Research, European Office; April 1993.

Published: June 1994; WTEC Hyper-Librarian