Underwater robot Boaty McBoatface has arrived at Turnchapel Wharf, Plymouth, following a 2000km underwater test as part of its Autosub Long Range (ALR) programme.

The vessel arrived in Plymouth after a five week test which saw it dive to depths of over 1,000m, surfacing every 24 hours to send and receive data from the control centre. The vessel is managed by the National Oceanography Centre based in Southampton, with their Marine Autonomous Robotic Systems Development Group leading the UK's road to net zero oceanographic capability.

The vessels unique name came as the result of an online #NameOurShip poll for naming a new£200m polar scientific research vessel. The humorous name quickly became an viral sensation with over 100,000 votes. Eventually, the ship was named RSS Sir David Attenborough, with the compromise that the new submersible vessel would be given the name Boaty McBoatface, or Boaty for short!

  • Vessel type: Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (USV) also known as an Autosub Long Range (ALR)
  • Max Depth: 6,000m
  • Length: 3.62m
  • Weight: 700kg
  • Mission range: 2,000km
  • Home: National Oceanography Centre, Southampton

Article below first published on NOC.ac.uk news on 14 June 2022. Link

Boaty McBoatface returns to Plymouth to monitor impacts on UK’s coastal ecosystems

Engineers and scientists from the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) have successfully recovered the renowned state-of-the-art underwater robot, Boaty McBoatface, from Thales Turnchapel Wharf in Plymouth, where it completed its most recent deployment out in the Southwest Approaches. This latest expedition is the longest journey undertaken the Autosub Long Range (ALR).

The deployment focused on proving the endurance and data gathering capabilities of Boaty McBoatface, to ensure it is prepared for scientific deployments anywhere in the ocean. Over a period of five weeks the autonomous vehicle travelled from Plymouth out to the continental shelf edge south of Ireland and back to Plymouth, covering a distance of almost 2,000km whilst venturing to depths of over 1,000m. Unaccompanied by a support vessel, Boaty was surfacing roughly every 24 hours to telemeter sensor data and receive new piloting instructions from the team in Southampton.

Boaty Mcboatface ALR Recovery

Capable of being deployed for up to three months, the fleet of six Autosub Long Range (ALRs) vehicles are opening new opportunities for low-cost shore-launch scientific missions and under-ice exploration. Development of these long-range, low-power, robots will also allow scientists to research areas that could not previously be reached by ships, such as unexplored and technologically challenging environments such as under-ice and the deep-ocean. The Plymouth deployment demonstrates new technologies that will be used to deliver planned future ground-breaking science expeditions, such as exploring under the sea ice in the Weddell Sea or monitoring the long-term environmental impacts of decommissioned oil and gas infrastructure.

"This latest expedition is the longest journey undertaken by Boaty and marks a number of significant achievements for the Oceanids development programme"

Dr Alex Phillips, Head of the MARS Development Group at the National Oceanography Centre

The NOC has been leading the UK’s road to net zero oceanographic capability with the Marine Autonomous Robotic Systems (MARS) Development Group. Scientists and engineers at the NOC are using autonomous underwater vehicles to provide information and data to assess the impact that investments into clean energy may have on coastal ecosystems, such as the impact of offshore wind farms in areas that the UK depends on for fish, transport, leisure & wellbeing, as well as energy extraction.

Dr Alex Phillips, Head of the MARS Development Group at the National Oceanography Centre said: “This latest expedition is the longest journey undertaken by Boaty and marks a number of significant achievements for the Oceanids development programme. The ALR has managed to follow a challenging and hazardous pathway from the UK shore out to the continental shelf break, covering a distance of several thousand kilometres before making a safe return to Plymouth. During this time, it has dived to depths over 1,000m, collecting data that informs us of the changing currents, structure and productivity of UK seas.” 

Dr Matthew Palmer, Chief Scientist of Marine Autonomous Robotic Systems at the National Oceanography Centre said: “Although a technical trial, Boaty has collected information that will help link how physical conditions and changes in UK waters impact marine ecosystems and ocean health. New state-of-the-art sensors will monitor currents, temperature, changes in the seabed, and how phytoplankton and oxygen levels change over space and time. The long-range capability from shore to deep ocean will also contribute to our understanding of how short and long-term changes in our oceans and the UK’s coastal seas are a result of human actions such as pollution, fishing, and industry, as well as climate change factors.”

This mission presents a new level of capability for low-carbon technology to meet global marine monitoring requirements alongside UK Government targets. It delivers a highly capable autonomous submarine that can deliver data for scientific research, environmental monitoring, meeting licensing requirements and undertaking industry surveys, at a fraction of the cost of using specialist ships, showcasing autonomous underwater vehicles as a potential solution to governments and industry partners aiming to meet net-zero capability. The fleet of robots also offers a realistic solution to sustainable management of the marine environment to nations unable to invest in traditional ship based monitoring programmes, contributing to UN Sustainable Development Goals.

“We’re developing an exceptional oceanographic capability with autonomous platforms that will be a key enabler for future marine scientific research,” Matthew continued. “Technology is at the heart of transitioning to a carbon neutral research capability. These achievements mark the success of the NOC-led programmes in delivering world-leading robots and autonomous solutions that present a major step towards meeting the UK's Net-Zero and Digital Environment targets.”

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