Mobile Platforms for Underwater Sensor Networks

Student thesis: Phd


The production of clean water, the generation of nuclear power and the development of chemicals, petro-chemicals and pharmaceuticals all rely on liquid-based processes. They are fundamental to modern society, however the real-time monitoring of such processes is an inherently difficult challenge which has not yet been satisfactorily solved.Current methods of monitoring include on- and off-line spot checks and industrial process tomography. Neither of these methods provides the spatial or temporal resolution required to properly characterise the processes. This research project proposes a new monitoring method for processes which can tolerate foreign objects; a mobile underwater sensor network (MUSN).An MUSN has the potential to increase both the spatial and temporal resolution of measurements and could be used in real-time. The network would be formed by a number of mobile sensor platforms, in the form of micro-autonomous underwater vehicles (uAUVs) which would communicate using acoustics. The demonstrator for the technology is for use in the monitoring of nuclear storage ponds.Current AUV technology is not suitable for use in enclosed environments such as storage ponds due to the size and maneuverability. This thesis presents the research conducted in the development of a new vehicle uAUV. The work presented covers the mechatronic aspects of the vehicle; the design of the hull, propulsion systems, corresponding control circuitry and basic motion control systems. One of the main factors influencing the design of the vehicle has been cost. If a large number of vehicles are used to form a network, the cost of an individual uAUV should be kept as low as possible. This has raised a number of technical challenges as low-cost components are often of low-tolerance. Imbalanced time-varying thrust, low manufacturing tolerances and noisy indirect sensor measurements for the control systems have all been overcome in the design of the vehicle.The outcome of the research is a fully functional prototype uAUV. The vehicle is spherical in shape with a diameter of approximately 15cm, with six thruster units mounted around the equator (increasing the horizontal clearance to 20cm) to provide thrust in four degrees of freedom (surge, sway, heave and yaw). The vehicle has a sensor suite which includes a pressure sensor, digital compass and a gyroscope which provide inputs to the motion control systems. The controllers have been developed and implemented on the vehicle's custom built embedded system. Experiments have been conducted showing that the uAUV is able to move in 3D with closed-loop control in heave and yaw. Motion in surge and sway is open-loop, via a dead-reckoning system.
Date of Award31 Dec 2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorPeter Green (Supervisor)


  • Mobile Underwater Sensor Networks
  • Autonomous Underwater Vehicles
  • Mechatronic Design
  • Motion Control Systems

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