Biology and Technology Interaction – Autonomous Operations in Fish Farms using Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUVs)
The adaptation of autonomous UUVs is crucial to target current and future challenges and increase efficiency and sustainability in aquaculture industry.
UUVs operating in fish farms
The salmon industry is aiming to move to more exposed areas. The sea cages are getting bigger, the number of fish is increasing by hundreds of thousands and the environmental conditions are getting rougher in terms of harsher weather. In addition, this industry is also known for a substantial HSE risks and a high frequency of workrelated injuries.
Consequently, there is a growing need for increased levels of remote monitoring and automation to ensure safe working conditions for personnel, and healthy living conditions for fish. Increased automation can contribute to improving the control humans have over aquaculture operations by facilitating increased use of technological solutions such as unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs).
SINTEF Oceans Argus Mini, a research ROV used to test new methods in fi sh farms. Photo: SINTEF/Magnus Oshaug Pedersen.
Towards fully autonomous operations
Recently, there has been growing interest among the scientific community and in fish farming companies to increase the precision in fish farming operations. However, most operations in fish farms are still experience-based and often conducted using either divers or ROVs under the command of experienced operators.
By extending their use and enable UUVs to autonomously operate in fish farms, they can realize of future fully autonomous operations in complex and dynamically changing environments such as fish farms. A high level of autonomy will also ensure that data on the condition of the farmed fish can be obtained with a higher degree of repeatability and objectivity, improving data quality. While the success stories from other marine industries show that autonomous unmanned underwater vehicles are uniquely suited to inspection maintenance and repair (IMR) operations, unlike most other ocean related industries, aquaculture operations need to take biology into account. This introduces a series of additional challenges. In SINTEF Ocean, we target the development of the new generation of permanent resident UUVs that co-exist with fish without negative impact and autonomously navigate and interact with the flexible sea cage structures.
To address the current and future challenges in the aquaculture industry, we aspire to create a turning point for autonomous underwater operations in dynamically changing environments such as fish farms.
Towards this direction, new methods and robotic solutions for autonomous operations (hole detection, fish and environment monitoring, net integrity monitoring, net cleaning, mooring line inspection, crowding, etc) in fish farms have been developed and demonstrated in a variety of projects such as CHANGE, NetClean 24/7, ResiFarm, RACE-Fish Machine Interaction, RACE Digital Cage, Crowdguard, CageReporter, Artifex, Bioracer and MerdROV.
SINTEF ACE RoboticLab: Autonomous underwater operations with an ROV equipped with state-of-the-art sensors. Photo: SINTEF/Eleni Kelasidi.
What is next?
New knowledge on autonomy and robotic systems is constantly emerging from research, resulting in a continuous expansion of operational limits and potential usage areas of unmanned underwater and surface vehicles in several different applications (e.g. mapping, monitoring, inspection and intervention) in different industrial segments (e.g. oil and gas, shipping and conservation/ oceanography) including aquaculture.
The external environment a robotic system faces in an aquaculture setting differs from those encountered in conventional vehicle operations. Therefore, the Aquaculture Operations and Robotics group in SINTEF aims to develop autonomous systems that can operate in and adapt their actions to an unpredictable environment with fish and deformable flexible structures.
The ultimate goal is to target the development of dedicated solutions for the aquaculture industry and thus addressing the industry’s goals for optimal and sustainable production, where interaction between biology and technology is crucial. Therefore, SINTEF Ocean has established the SINTEF ACE-RoboticLab which aims to create innovative tools and autonomous solutions that expand the ability of the aquaculture industry and improve precision and efficiency in the aquaculture segment. Improved precision and efficiency through the use of UUVs will lead to better utilisation of resources and reduce energy consumption, consequently reducing the carbon footprint pollution. In addition, this improved technology will support fish welfare, potentially reducing mortality and thus increasing sustainability of fish farming.