The Versatility of ASVs is Off the Charts

The Versatility of ASVs is Off the Charts
ASVs offer a safe and efficient way to inspect the vertical features of a port or harbor. (Photo credit: M&E)

The marine survey industry has reached an inflection point when it comes to the day-to-day application of autonomous systems, amply evidenced by the growing trial, adoption, and integration of Autonomous Surface Vehicles (ASVs).

Today, essential survey instrumentation—such as multibeam sonars, LiDAR, ADCPs, etc.—rather than being administered by traditional topside support can be incorporated into uncrewed platforms capable of running survey lines and standard sampling missions with unmatched speed and precision.


The advent of commercial ASVs signals a new era of cost-efficiency and accuracy for hydrographers. Compact, easy-to-deploy units allow operators to significantly scale back operational overheads by minimalizing vessel or crew requirements. With survey set-up time optimized, there is more emphasis on mission outputs (quality data) than inputs (means to gather the data). With an uncrewed asset operating as programmed, surveyors can focus on the key objective—capture the very best data possible—without stressing about the margin of human error associated with manual control.

The preset survey plan allows hydrographers to concentrate on other important aspects of operations from a shore-based command or workboat and, where necessary, adjust based on real-time data. It also frees up bandwidth to expedite other stages of the project while still in the field, like processing and QA/QC, which ultimately means that clients receive validated results sooner. And this data delivery lead time is sure to shrink further; future upgrades to hardware and software will not only further enhance the hydrographer’s toolkit but enable survey companies to leverage the force multiplier effect of multi-ASV deployment to cover greater areas even more efficiently.


Beyond unprecedented operational efficiencies, autonomous systems also have the potential to completely redefine HSSE records and requirements by removing personnel from potentially hazardous waters, or areas with restricted access where conventional survey boats may be impeded.

In recent years, ASVs have become instrumental to most of M&E’s nearshore and specialized surveys for ports, harbors, and infrastructure, where our preference is always to keep people out of harm’s way. Surveying port waters can be notoriously dangerous, where the most common task is to inspect manmade structures and vertical features—such as, large pilings, vertical sheet pile walls, bulkheads, etc.—to help port authorities identify any of structural anomalies, deficiencies, or need for routine maintenance. The ASVs we use (SeaRobotics) are outfitted with the latest high-resolution sonar systems with wide-angle arrays (upwards of 200 degrees) and so allow data to be collected from the surface down to the seafloor, all from the safety of a dockside lookout.

Other examples of how ASVs have become integral to our remotely managed surveys of hard-to-navigate shallows include hardbottom mapping and beach profiling as part of our ongoing effort to assess the hydrographic and topographic variables up and down the Florida coast year-round following major weather events; high resolution bathymetric mapping of sand and aggregate mining pits in Central Florida; and multibeam and side-scan sonar deployment to verify seafloor conditions and accurate placement of artificial reefs offshore eastern Florida. In short, modular, plug-and-play ASVs offer hydrographers in-field versatility like never before.

For more information about M&E’s Autonomous Remote Surveys division, visit:

This story was originally featured in ON&T Magazine's January 2022 issue. Click here to read more.



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