Trials of robot submarines at Loch Ness will turn the tide for future ocean missions

Engineers are set to trial new robot submarines in Loch Ness that will allow scientists to get up close to melting icecaps in a ground-breaking expedition.

Trials in Loch Ness run from Tuesday 18 to Saturday 29 May and will put the cutting-edge technologies to the test

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The team from the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) will pilot the state-of-the-art Autosub Long Range (ALR) vehicle to ensure its capabilities are ready for scientific deployments anywhere in the ocean.

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Better known as Boaty McBoatface, the newly developed ALR has new navigation features that will allow scientists to research areas that could not previously be reached by boat, such as under and up close to melting icecaps.

The new fleet is capable of being deployed for up to three months and reaching depths of up to 6,000m

The new technologies being tested will be used to deliver a ground-breaking expedition in 2022 to explore the melting Thwaites Glacier, one of the most unstable glaciers in Antarctica.

Trials will run in Loch Ness from Tuesday 18 to Saturday 29 May, gearing up for the UK’s marine science community to use the robots in unexplored and challenging under-ice and deep-ocean environments.

Experts said the trials are a major milestone for Oceanids, a Marine Autonomous Systems (MAS) development programme led by NOC and funded by UK Government which runs until March 2022.

The fleet of six ALRs are capable of being deployed for up to three months and reaching depths of up to 6,000m, opening up new opportunities for lower cost shore-based scientific missions and under-ice exploration.

Dr Kristian Thaller, Project Management Manger from the National Oceanography Centre, said: “The Oceanids programme has meant we’ve been able to progress the technology behind our underwater vehicles, pushing the UK’s autonomous capability forward. These vehicles are the next generation of pioneering systems that will push the boundaries of how we look to explore the ocean in the future.”

“The trials in Loch Ness will ensure that UK researchers have access to cutting-edge technologies that enable world-leading science, whilst lowering the cost and reducing the environmental impact of missions by removing the need of a supporting research ship. Our development in autonomous vehicles means that scientific research is one step closer to net-zero emissions, because of the advances in the robots’ technology systems.”

NOC will also be conducting the first in-water trials of a newly developed Autosub 2000 Under-Ice vehicle, which is capable of carrying high-powered sensors and has the ability to operate in challenging polar environments.

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