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High Bandwidth Optical Networking for Underwater Untethered TeleRobotic Operation

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2 Author(s)
Greg Baiden ; Canadian Research Chair - Robotics and Automation, School of Engineering, Laurentian University, Chief Technology Officer, Penguin Automated Systems Inc. ; Yassiah Bissiri

Mining, construction, aquaculture and many other possible uses of the planet's underwater resources will be necessary in the future. Much of our current mineral wealth on the land mass of the planet is becoming depleted. We must turn to the oceans to provide the resources we will require in the future. Presently, we are mining 29% of the planet's surface area deeper and deeper while the 71% which is underwater is basically untouched. As mining underwater is inevitable we must ensure that environmentally we are more responsible than miners have been perceived to be. We have much to learn about our underwater environment. In some cases nature has managed to do what we have not been able to do in our current mining operations. Tube worms have the ability to chemically convert the waste products of volcanics safely into the natural environment. Miners have dreamed about these types of biological solutions to processing waste products. To explore and consider mining in the deep ocean a few basic facts must be considered. Prolonged work in the underwater environment by people will only be done robotically and the need for human intervention is going to be required. This leads to the need to create new mining systems that support multiple machine situations where untethered units can be operated both autonomously and tele-autonomously. Underwater mining in deep ocean environments will require multiple robots of different types to be deployed. This approach while in a different environment is similar to leading edge work already underway in underground mining by the major mining companies. Mining machines thousands of metres below the surface are controlled tele-robotically from surface control rooms. The combination of sophisticated high bandwidth communication, specialized control systems and on-board standard electronics have allowed teleautonomous machines to be utilized into the mining of ore at great depths underground. These tele- robotic techniques have proven suc- cessful in underground operations and are currently being considered for open pit mining operations. Underwater conditions while very different from underground conditions for mining are similar when considering the mining robots to be deployed. Where underground rock considerations are rock temperature, pressure, strength and fractures, underwater has similar issues to deal with but the medium changes to a homogenous liquid. This fact from a mining engineer's point-of-view makes water an ideal environment to work in. Moreover, the robotics challenge is easier to deal with as long as teleautonomous techniques can be utilized. Since the needs are nearly identical the solutions should be similar. So how will the underwater mine of the future look from a mining perspective? Mining of the ocean's bottom will likely be done using open pit mining techniques to begin with possibly harvesting mineral rich"black smokers", ultimately leading to underground ocean bed mines if the mineral can support economic development and operation. Environmental considerations will be of prime importance as they currently are to the Canadian mining industry. Operations of this style of mining will see tele-robotic control with solid- state underwater robots as an imperative step. While many functions can be done autonomously the most complex tasks will require human intervention. Current teleautonomous submarine operation done using umbilical cables would be nearly impossible as mining operations would require operating multiple machines. The main robotic constraint would be umbilical management in a multiple machine mining operation. This situation is not suitable for large scale underwater mining operations. This paper reports on the research and development of a new high bandwidth optical networking and communication system to enable untethered operation of tele-robotic submarines and ultimately future underwater mining equipment. The key concept for the development of underwater minin

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Date of Conference:

Sept. 29 2007-Oct. 4 2007