The vehicles glided, flapped, flew, and crawled, united in one purpose: "Taking the man out of the minefield." On June 14, in a presentation to a group of VIP visitors to the event, Dr. Tom Swean, ONR program manager for Ocean Engineering and Marine Systems and U.S. lead for the TTCP (Tripartied Technology Cooperation Program) mine warfare panel, noted the importance of moving more quickly from "detection to engagement" and minimizing human involvement in hazardous areas such as minefields. Swean noted the need for better ways of finding buried and stealthy mines, better mine sweeps, advances in cooperative behavior of automated systems, and faster ways to clear minefields to provide safe passage for sailors and marines.
AUVFest comprised a series of assigned tasks that the teams of scientists, engineers, and their technologies had to complete within a specified time frame. The bottom surface of a barge and the waters of St. Andrews Bay and the Gulf of Mexico were seeded with simulated mines. The teams and their vehicles located the mine-like objects, identified them, tagged their locations, and simulated mine-destroying operations.
Overseeing it all was a custom-designed command center that pulled in real-time data on ship and vehicle locations, communications, weather conditions—some 20 data streams in all. The CEVARS (Common Event Visualization, Archival, and Reconstruction System) architecture synchronized the data as they arrived, making it possible to view multiple parameters at once on the monitor screens. The first prototype of CEVARS was tested in 2005. "This year, we´re actually doing what we have been envisioning all this time," said Bill Schopfel, the ONR event manager.
On June 13 and 14, members of the media and VIP visitors toured the year-old Littoral Warfare Research Facility (LWRF), the SeaFighter catamaran, and exhibits for the collaborative exercises that the TTCP (a consortium of the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) conducted as a part of AUVFest. At the end of the event, the scientists and engineers who had participated in AUVFest were on hand at the LWRF to display their technologies and answer questions.
The success of the event and the sense of accomplishment was evident from the enthusiasm with which the participants showed off their technologies to the groups of visitors. Steve Castelin, Customer Advocate for littoral warfare products, noted that even though this was not a formal competition, when you have to bring your project out of the lab and get it to work in front of all your colleagues, the pressure is on.
This type of event is better than a conference, said Phil Bernstein, because everyone is working on the same problems, and the hardware is there on site. Naval reservist Commander John Brown noted how far AUVFest had come from its early days. "Back then, we just worried about whether the connectors would fit. We spent a lot of time on watertightness problems," he noted. For future events, Bernstein envisions an emphasis on vehicle swarms, added redundancy, automatic systems reconfiguration, and cooperative behavior.
ONR sponsors AUVFest as a part of its Ocean Engineering & Marine Systems program. This program provides a fundamental knowledge framework for advanced engineering methodologies and seeks to accelerate transition of basic research developments into advanced marine platform systems with applications to unmanned surveillance and monitoring systems for the Naval forces and at-sea experimental capabilities for the ocean sciences community.
"Unmanned vehicles are at the heart of ONR´s anti-mine warfare efforts," Dr. Patricia Gruber, ONR´s Director of Research, told the assembled VIP visitors. "This is a new way of handling dirty, dull, and dangerous jobs."