The US Navy is set to test SeaRobotics' first hull bio-inspired underwater grooming system (HullBUG) at the Florida Institute of Technology's Center for Corrosion and Biofouling Control in Melbourne, Australia.
Funded by the US Navy Office of Naval Research (ONR), the navy's HullBUG programme aims to prevent the growth of advanced biofouling onboard ships.
The reduction in advanced biofouling boosts peak ship performance, reduces fuel consumption associated with increased drag from accumulated biofouling, as well as decreasing the US Navy's carbon footprint.
Powered by a battery, the SeaRobotics-built autonomous robot can crawl and maintain the hull surfaces of ship or other underwater structures, while proactively maintaining the surface clean at all times.
In addition, the HullBUG also reduces the risk of hull invasive species transfer.
The onboard sensors suite and numerous embedded computers enable Hull BUG to provide obstacle avoidance, path planning and navigation capabilities, which include detection of fouled and groomed surfaces.
Weighing 30kg-40kg, the HullBUG vehicle features four wheels and a negative pressure alternative device assembly for attachment to the hull.
SeaRobotics president Don Darling said: "Equally impressive are the associated environmental benefits derived from the operations with improved hull efficiency."
Capable of attaching to ferrous, non-ferrous, and fibreglass hull, as well as deploying various sensors, the HullBUG also serves as a solution to overcome the numerous challenges associated with inspection and grooming.
Developed under the ONR's Discovery and Invention (D&I) programme, the HullBUG is scheduled for further development through the Future Naval Capabilities (FNC) programme, while the full ship demonstration is expected to take place in 2015.
The system's use in commercial shipping, oil and gas, nuclear and conventional power generation applications is also under negotiation.
Image: The autonomous hull cleaning system being lowered into water. Photo: courtesy of SeaRobotics.