Venice, a city known for its breathtaking beauty and rich naval tradition, served as the prestigious host for the Nautical Salone of Venice 2023, Salone Nautico Venezia 2023, from the 31st of May to the 4th of June. Among the remarkable exhibits that graced this esteemed event, the international project ENDURUNS made its debut, captivating the public with its vision of cutting-edge marine exploration.

The ENDURUNS project, officially known as “Development and demonstration of a long-endurance sea-surveying autonomous unmanned vessel with gliding capability powered by hydrogen fuel cell,” is a groundbreaking initiative financed by the European Commission through the Horizon 2020 programme and the Korean Government. The project’s primary objective is to develop and demonstrate an Unmanned Surface Vehicle (USV) in conjunction with an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) equipped with gliding capability. Both vehicles are powered using state-of-the-art hydrogen fuel cells, complemented by Lithium-ion batteries onboard.

Arxipelagos, one of ENDURUNS interested parties, was honored to receive an invitation from Professor Mayorkinos Papaelias, the Scientific Coordinator of the project and a member of the School of Metallurgy and Materials at the University of Birmingham, UK. The team participated in the exhibition at Salone Nautico Venezia and witnessed the impressive demonstration trials of these two innovative vehicles.

The prototype USV has been designed to operate as mothership for the AUV glider, which is capable of docking and undocking using a special mechanism installed at the stern. Thus, the USV can carry the AUV glider at the location where the mission is going to take place, and subsequently recover it and return it to the port. The USV like the AUV glider is powered using electrical power, using Li-ion batteries that are recharged using photovoltaic panels and the PEM hydrogen fuel cell installed omboard. With the help of an acoustic modem the USV can communicate with the AUV glider when the latter is underwater in order to exchange data and provide the location information required since GPS signals do not travel underwater. Through satellite and radio links installed on the USV, it is possible to remotely control it or reprogramme it so it can follow a predesignated route which can be updated dynamically and in real time when and if required. The route updates can be communicated to the AUV glider using the acoustic modem or when it is on the surface through wireless telecommunication. The USV has been built from glass fibre reinforced composite and thus, it is structurally robust, enabling it to survive very adverse sea and weather conditions without damage. It has a total length of approximately 9 metres and beam of 2 metres. Its total weight is 4.5 tonnes although this can be increased depending on the amount of equipment and hydrogen carried onboard. It comprises two rudders and two electrical thrusters that are used to propel it.

The prototype AUV glider has a torpedo-like shape and has the ability to dock and undock with the USV. The AUV glider uses a wet design which means the external hull is made of plastic and all critical components are housed in special pressure housings which can be made of aerospace-grade aluminium alloy, stainless steel or titanium depending on the depth of operation required for the mission. The ENDURUNS AUV glider can operate at a maximum depth of 6000 metres when the pressure housings are made of titanium, 3000 metres when they are made of stainless steel and 1000 metres when made of aluminium alloy. The AUV glider has multiple capabilities when operating underwater including seabed mapping, geological and geophysical measurements, inspection of offshore infrastructure, monitoring and analysis of chemical substances in the water columns, and others depending on the type of sensors and equipment installed onboard. The energy requirements of the AUV glider are covered through a combination of Li-ion batteries and PEM fuel cell. The Li-ion batteries can be recharged automatically when the AUV glider is docked with the USV without making use of its own energy resources available onboard. The AUV glider has a modular design and its length is currently 6 metres with a diameter of 60 cm. It has a total weight of 900 kg dry outside of the water. Its propulsion and steering is achieved through the use of four electrical thrusters. Two wings installed towards the stern of the AUV glider, permit the vehicle to change depth using a minimum amount of energy.

The energy provided to the two ENDURUNS vehicles is benign to the environment contributing towards climate and pollution protection of the planet. Through the data supplied from the Remote Control Centre, also developed within the ENDURUNS project, the two vehicles have the ability to minimise the energy consumption contributing significantly towards optimising endurance, without affecting the mission planning. The ENDURUNS project, signals a new era in ocean research capability, and highlights the international trend in the maritime industry towards the use of sustainable energy sources.

A few days after the end of the great Salone Nautico Venezia 2023, the Arxipelagos team, travelled again to the beautiful city of the Italian North, in order to witness the demonstration trials of the two vehicles under actual operational conditions at sea. You can watch the relevant videos. Also, you can watch the interview given by the Scientific Coordinator of the project, Professor Mayorkinos Papaelias of the School of Metallurgy and Materials at the University of Birmingham, as well as the presentation of these two special vehicles during their exhibition at the Salone Nautico Venezia 2023.

Original article: Ευρωπαϊκό πρόγραμμα Enduruns 2023 – Αυτόνομο μη επανδρωμένο σκάφος με κατανάλωση υδρογόνου – Αρχιπέλαγος, Η 1η ναυτιλιακή πύλη ενημέρωσης στην Ελλάδα (