Site: Marconi Underwater Systems Ltd.
Hampshire PO7 7XS
Telephone: 0705 26-44-66
Date Visited: May 11, 1993
Report Author: D. Blidberg
A.N. Williams; Divisional Director
Keith A.R. Knight; Regional Marketing Manager
A.M. Tonge; AUV Projects Leader
Ron D. Short; Business Development Executive
Marconi Underwater Systems Ltd. is an operating company within GEC-Marconi, one of the major divisions of GEC. The company employs 5,500 people at twelve sites, including four design and development units, production and test facilities, and an applied research lab. The company's headquarters is in Waterlooville, and its former subsidiary, UDI (now Fugro UDI -- see UDI site report) is in Aberdeen.
The team's host briefly touched on several technologies, but focused on Marconi's Ocean Data Acquisition System (ODAS) vehicle. ODAS is the company's attempt to develop an AUV system for the ocean science market and other similar markets. It builds on the technology the company developed for torpedo projects, although the company states that most of the vehicle is of a totally new design. The company does suggest, however, that much of the development infrastructure at Marconi (tools and techniques, project management, testing, and fabrication) has helped the company's scientists and engineers during the development of ODAS.
The system design philosophy is to focus on a specific market, develop a low cost solution, get the vehicle in the water, and let it evolve. Marconi suggests that the ODAS system should be priced in the $100,000 to $200,000 range.
The ODAS vehicle was launched eighteen months prior to the WTEC panel's visit. It is being jointly undertaken by Marconi, Moog Controls, Chelsea Instruments, and Alupower. Its primary mission is the collection of oceanographic data through the use of instruments developed by Chelsea. The vehicle is 21" in diameter and approximately 20 ft long. It has an endurance of 36 hrs (24 nominal) and reaches a speed of 5 kts. It currently has 37 kWhrs of energy that is divided between propulsion (65 percent) and payload (35 percent). A future aluminum-air system under development by Alupower will be used to increase the energy density of the onboard battery in order to reduce the size of the vehicle. The vehicle will turn in 200 m of water with its current configuration and will reach depths of 300 m. The hull is of aluminum alloy. The computer system is based on the Intel 386, with software written in ADA. Structured programming techniques are used within the ADA software development environment. The payload weight is 45 kg within a 20" long section of the body.
The vehicle has no obstacle avoidance sonar, but does have a minimal communications capability that currently allows an abort command to be sent to the system. More complete communications are planned with the eventual capability of transmitting data back to the remote user. The system is positively buoyant and also includes a droppable keel for emergency recovery.
Trial runs have been conducted in Portland Harbor with success. The vehicle transited along a predefined path at a depth of 10 m. A simple yet effective launch and recovery system has been developed for recovery of ODAS. The recovery system is towed behind the mother ship and a line is fed through the device and attached to the ODAS system during recovery. The vehicle is then winched (pulled) into the cradle and locked in place. The entire system is then recovered.
A small, fiber-optic cable controlled system was briefly discussed. It was felt by Marconi representatives to be a unique system that might have many applications.
There is no question that this company has many capabilities in the design of undersea vehicles. Marconi's scientists and engineers are looking hard at commercial applications of this technology and have a number of thoughts on what those applications might be. Marconi is continuing to explore the potential market, and believes that low cost systems have a role in that marketplace. The launch and recovery system for the ODAS vehicle is a good example of the company's efforts to develop innovative, low cost solutions.