NOPTILUS — The Autonomous Underwater Vehicle

By: George Christou

AUV is a relatively new term which stands for Autonomous Underwater Vehicles. This short article is an overview of the achievements and the vision of a team headed by Dr. Ilias Kosmatopoulos, Dr.João Borges de Sousa and Dr. Savvas Chatzichristofi for the development of cutting edge AUVs. Their project is called “NOPTILUS” (autoNomous, self-Learning, OPTImal and compLete Underwater System) and aims the development of advanced multi-AUVs to study further the underwater world and enhance the industry of underwater activities.

AUVs can be described as robotic devices that can be driven through water, controlled and piloted by an on-board computer. AUVs can fully and autonomously take over real-life complex situation awareness operations such as environmental monitoring and clean-up operations, seafloor mapping, security and surveillance, inspection of underwater structures, etc.

Dr. Savvas Chatzichristofis with the NOPTILUS AUV.

The first test was very successful

Three of the developed AUVs were dumped in the sea by the port of Porto in collaboration with the Portuguese military services. As part of the experiments and testing the NOPTILUS AUVs succeeded to map underwater areas 3 times faster and 10 times more accurate than previous techniques (Video). The AUVs were given just the general guidelines of the area to be mapped and then autonomously planned their journey to map the given area. As well, in several testing scenarios the AUVs were assigned to observe a sinking ship, looking for oil leaks and transmitting in real time 3D images.

NOPTILUS at the port of Porto

The project

NOPTILUS is supported by a European Union grant. It aims to create an effective fully-autonomous multi-AUV concept/system. The leaders of the project are the Information Technology Institute (ITI — Greece), Centre of Research and Technology Hellas (CE.R.T.H) and (FEUP) Porto University in Portugal.The coordinators are also collaborating with the University of Porto, the Georgia Tech Lorraine, Delft University of Technology, the Institute of Telecommunication Systems of the Technical University of Crete, Imperial College London and the Port of Leixoes, Porto.

NOPTILUS aims to achieve several objectives which are summarised below:

  • Automatically detecting, recognizing, understanding and predicting static underwater features and patterns as well as highly dynamic phenomena and events taking place and influencing underwater operations.
  • Providing arbitrarily-close-to-the-optimal, real-time, scalable, cooperative, and distributed, fully-autonomous multi-AUV Planning, Assignment and Navigation (PAN).
  • New approaches of advanced sonar-based multi-AUV communication systems which will provide significantly higher throughput and reliability.
  • New and advanced designs and techniques that will significantly improve the positioning capabilities of multi-AUV systems.
  • Introduce novel sonar-based multi-AUV sensing systems whose accuracy and reliability significantly outperforms existing systems.
  • Improve current underwater vision systems.
  • Construct accurate 3D maps of the area under surveillance and accurately locate and track dynamic phenomena of interest (e.g. movement and spread of chemical spills).

AUVs such as NOPTILUS are expected to be used for disaster management, underwater mapping, military missions, surveillance and much more.

The team

Dr. Ilias Kosmatopoulos is an Associate Professor at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Democritus University of Thrace, Greece. He has been an Assistant Professor with the Department of Production Engineering and Management, Technical University of Crete (TUC), Greece and Deputy Director of the Dynamic Systems and Simulation Laboratory at TUC. Prior to joining TUC, he was Research Assoc. and Assist. Professor with the Department of Electrical Engineering-Systems, University of Southern California (USC) and a Postdoctoral Fellow with the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering, University of Victoria, B.C., Canada.

He has been involved in various applied research projects virtual reality, intelligent manufacturing systems, fault detection in TV cable plants, telecommunications, control of space telescopes, control of air vehicles and hypersonic vehicles, mitigation of earthquake effects to civil structures, intelligent highway systems, intelligent transportation systems, traffic control, agile ports, energy positive buildings and robotic swarms.

Dr. João Borges de Sousa is a lecturer at the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at Porto University in Portugal and the director of the Underwater Systems and Technologies (LSTS) Laboratory at Porto University. He received the M. Sc. degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Porto University in 1992. He did his Ph.D. studies under the supervision of Prof. Pravin Varaiya from the University of California at Berkeley. His research interests include unmanned vehicle systems, networked control, control and coordination of multiple dynamic systems, hybrid systems, systems engineering, and control architectures for multi-vehicle systems. Since 1997 he has been leading the design, implementation and deployment of advanced unmanned vehicle systems in projects funded by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology, Nato and the EU, in Europe, and by ONR and DARPA in the US. In 2006 he received the national BES Innovation National Award for the design of the Light Autonomous Underwater Vehicle. In 2007 he received an outstanding teaching award from Porto University. He authored more than 200 publications, including 30 journal papers.

Dr. Savvas Chatzichristofis pursued a Diploma and a PhD from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Democritus University of Thrace (Greece). Currently, he is a post-Doctoral Researcher at the Centre of Research and Technology Hellas (CE.R.T.H), Information Technologies Institute (I.T.I), ConvCAO Research Group and also affiliated with Electrical and Computer Engineering Department (E.E.C.E.) at Democritus University of Thrace (D.U.Th.).

His research is focused on Cybernetics and Artificial Intelligence together with their applications in the field of Computer Vision, Multimodal Retrieval, and Robotics Pattern Recognition. In the past, he have served as a visiting lecturer at the Department of Electrical Engineering, Computer Engineering and Informatics, as well as at the Department of Civil Engineering and Geomatics of the Cyprus University of Technology.

Further information on NOPTILUS can be found on the official website: www.noptilus-fp7.eu


We are grateful to Dr Savvas Chatzichristofi for providing us with the relevant information needed to compose this article. We wish him all the best in the future.