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UL Submarine Robot Investigates Historical WWI Ship Wrecks

Engineers from CRIS (Centre for Robotics and Intelligent Systems) at the University of Limerick (UL) and MaREI (Marine and Renewable Energy Ireland) have investigated a series of unknown shipwrecks off the west coast of Ireland. A team of researchers led by chief scientist Dr Gerard Dooly, University of Limerick (UL), aboard the Research Vessel Celtic Explorer used a new automated underwater vehicle, ROV Étáin to carry out the surveys in highly challenging environments.

The recently unveiled Irish National Monuments Service Wreck Viewer lists the locations of more than 4,000 shipwrecks from a total of 18,000 records of potential wrecks in Irish waters giving some indication of the available infrastructure on the seafloor.

The discovery and high detailed survey of these shipwreck sites was possible for the first time through the technological innovations that the CRIS team have been trialling. The underwater vehicle control system, developed at UL, and funded by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) uses artificial intelligence (AI) and high powered computers for autonomous controls, enabling perception and the ability for the robot to evaluate situations independent of human help. These technologies unlock a high level of safety and awareness which is essential for operating in difficult conditions such as shipwrecks and high weather areas off our coast.

Dr Gerard Dooly, chief scientist for the survey CE2019001 and deep wreck diver, said "near the wreck, we saw pots and pans and unexploded ordinance (shells and primers) scattered on the seafloor reminding us of the human misfortune that occurred at the time of sinking. Every wreck has its own story, so it's always interesting to locate long forgotten shipwrecks and then try to determine the identity of the wreck and understand something of the circumstances of the tragedy.

Close quarter inspection of these sites with an ROV is technically challenging and hazardous due to the presence of abandoned fishing gear. The blended control and automation of the ROV provided by our UL developed OceanRINGS software and other UL systems allows us to safely complete these missions."

Profiting from benign weather conditions at this time of year, the survey successfully located and dove on two large - greater than 100 metres in length – wrecks thought to be that of a Liner and a large cargo vessel and one smaller wreck which was found to be an operational WWI era U-boat. A high definition camera survey of one of the wrecks revealed that intact parts of the ship were colonised by various colourful epifauna: anemones, solitary corals, oysters and brachiopods.

Subsequent multibeam mapping of one wreck, though to be that of the Ocean Liner S.S. Canadian, applying a newly published protocol on imaging of shipwrecks developed by Ulster University (UU) showed a large debris field that was not visible on the original map of the wreck, suggesting a violent impact with the seabed.

Dr Chris McGonigle, School of Geography and Environmental Sciences at UU said "these emerging and advanced methods for surveying allow us to map and understand processes affecting shipwrecks and the ecological environments they support in an unprecedented level of detail."

This research survey was carried out as part of the National Research Vessels Ship-Time Programme, with the support of the Marine Institute, funded under the Marine Research Programme 2014-2020 by the Irish Government.

Notes to Editors:

Centre for Robotics and Intelligent Systems (CRIS), University of Limerick)
The Centre for Robotics and Intelligent Systems was established by (Director) Professor Daniel Toal. It is the only research centre focused on the application and development of marine robotics within the island of Ireland. This research centre consists of a mix of postdoctoral researchers and PhD students from various disciplines including electronic, computer, mechanical and aeronautical engineering backgrounds, and is an important part of MaREI -Centre for Marine and Renewable Energy. The research centre brings together a highly capable engineering group focused on developing practical and industrial relevant marine technologies. From marine robotics to navigation, sensor development, emergency response planning, remote operated vehicle (ROV) and unmanned aerial (UAS) technologies, CRIS is actively involved in developing a diverse range of practical technologies in national funded, European funded and industry collaborative projects.
Visit: www.mmrrc.ul.ie/dotnetnuke/mmrrc/AboutUs.aspx

Centre for Marine and Renewable Energy (MaREI)
MaREI is the marine and renewable energy research, development and innovation Centre supported by Science Foundation Ireland. It combines the expertise of a wide range of research groups and industry partners, with the shared mission of solving the main scientific, technical and socio-economic challenges across the marine and renewable energy sectors. MaREI is coordinated by the University College Cork and has over 200 researchers working across 6 academic institutions collaborating with over 45 industry partners. Visit:www.marei.ie

Marine Institute
The Marine Institute is the Irish national agency responsible for Marine Research, Technology Development and Innovation. We seek to assess and realise the economic potential of Ireland's 220 million acre marine resource; promote the sustainable development of marine industry through strategic funding programmes and essential scientific services; and safeguard our marine environment through research and environmental monitoring. Visit: www.marine.ie

National Monuments Service (NMS) Wreck Viewer
The Wreck Viewer is a new free-to-use digital service provided by the National Monuments Service of the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. It has been developed to facilitate easy access to the National Monuments Service's Wreck Inventory of Ireland Database (WIID) and to complement the existing Historic Environment Viewer which provides access to the databases of the Sites and Monuments Record (SMR) and the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage (NIAH).
Visit: www.archaeology.ie/underwater-archaeology/wreck-viewer

New Archaeology Paper:
Westley, K., Plets, R., Quinn, R., McGonigle, C., Sachetti, F., Dale, M., Clements, A., McNeary, R. (in press). Refining protocols for high-definition imaging of shipwrecks using multibeam echosounder, Geoarchaeology. Visit: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/15206548

EU H2020 Research Projects
RoboVaaS - Robot Vessels as-a-Service www.martera.eu/projects/robovaas

EUMR - EU Marine Robots www.eumarinerobots.eu

Initial Publication Date: 
Wednesday, 6 February, 2019