The ROBUST proposal aims to tackle the aforementioned issue by developing sea bed in situ material identification through the fusion of two technologies, namely laser-based insitu element-analyzing capability merged with underwater AUV (Autonomous Underwater Vehicle) technologies for sea bed 3D mapping. This will enable resource identification done by robotic control enabled bythe synergy between AUV hovering and manipulator capabilities. The underwater robotic laser process is the Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS), used for identification of materials on the sea bed. The AUV Robotic vehicle will dive, identify the resources that are targeted for LIBS scanning through 3D real time mapping of the terrain (hydroacoustically, laser scanners, photogrammetry.) and position the LIBS in the required locations of mineral deposits on the ocean floor to autonomously perform qualitative and quantitative analyses.
ROBUST has nine primary objectives:
• To develop real time 3D sea bed mapping algorithms which will be incorporated to the AUV, in order for the vehicle to detect the desired mineral resources and maneuver and position the manipulator with the LIBS on the mineral deposit.
• To fuse laser sensors technology along with video/image observations, to get high resolution 3D information of the seafloor and targeted materials at a distance of <~7m. This can aid in post analysis and 3D reconstruction of imagery and eventually volume measurement of nodules on the seabed at selected sites.
• The further advancement of Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) for deep water applications for fast material identification by in situ application.
• To develop a manipulator attached to the AUV, which will carry the LIBS probing head in order to position it on the mineral deposit for element scanning.
• To develop a compact diode pumped solid-state laser in a pressure housing to be implemented in the LIBS probing head.
• To develop hovering and control capabilities for the AUV carrying the LIBS, for keeping the AUV positioned while the LIBS scans the mineral deposit and for seamless synergy between AUV movement and LIBS manipulator.
• The maximum target depth for the LIBS and all associated AUV 3D mapping, robotic and control technologies, is 6000m which pretty much covers most of sea bed mining resources which show
• To develop a life cycle cost analysis plan for the developed technologies and how the ROBUST technologies will benefit the sea bed mining industry in terms of reducing exploration cost and time.
• To develop a business plan based on available and expected market figures for sub-sea services including AUV supported LIBS operations for material identification on sea bed.
In addition ROBUST aims also to accomplish the following:
• The AUV technologies and LIBS, will be designed to work at water depth of 6000 m, with validation tests of the LIBS equipment conducted at a depth between 4000m and 6000m employing and ROV (Remote Operated vehicle) and subsequent testing of the full AUV technologies and LIBS at 200-300 m in order to demonstrate the seamless synergy of the developed technologies. The full AUV plus LIBS tests will be conducted at shallow waters (200-300 m) but real mineral resources will be incorporated (e.g. sea bed deposited manganese nodules) in order to fully demonstrate the ROBUST technologies in relevant environment. The 6000m depth has been chosen as the maximum target depth because of the commercial application requirements of interest, including marine mineral resources (ferromanganese crusts with sufficient mineral content to be of economic interest massive sulphide sites of high interest and ferromanganese nodules.
• The ROBUST consortium aims to develop a fully automated procedure, where the AUV dives in the predetermined site and through advanced 3D mapping and identification of the sea bed spots targets for LIBS scanning manoeuvres and initiates the scan autonomously. The aforementioned procedure will be accomplished real time. The synergy of AUV hovering capabilities and LIBS manipulator will allow the LIBS to have sufficient time to scan the target.
• Sustainable exploitation of marine resources will be aided through LIBS by supporting highly-focused mining activities, thus having less environmental impact. Lastly the identification of materials on the seabed with LIBS will improve the scientific capacity to observe and understand the deep sea environment.