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Maritime Digitalisation & Communications

Chouest anchor handler uses UAS during ice navigation

Mon 07 Nov 2016 by David Foxwell

Chouest anchor handler uses UAS during ice navigation
An aerial view of Chouest’s anchor handler taken from the Flexrotor unmanned aerial system

Edison Chouest Offshore has been using an unmanned aerial system or drone to help its ice-class anchor handler Aiviq navigate through ice. The ship was equipped with Flexrotor, a small unmanned aircraft from Aerovel that was built specifically for long-range imaging reconnaissance at sea. It was brought in as an experiment, but as soon as it started flying “it turned into an essential tool,” claimed Aerovel. Video from the unmanned aircraft was used by the pilot responsible for navigating the ship and video was also followed with keen interest by web viewers in Alaska, which was streamed in realtime via the vessel’s satellite link.

“Flexrotor is in a class all on its own for this sort of work,” said Matt Parker, vice president of Precision Integrated, which was contracted by Alaska’s Fairweather Science to execute the mission. “Its small footprint makes onboard setup quick and easy. Launch and retrieval are done with no disruption to the ship’s activity; and its long range and endurance are immensely powerful. This was the first genuinely sustained and economically successful mission for unmanned aircraft aboard a ship in the Arctic. We’ll soon be doing many more.”

“We are always careful to tread lightly in the Arctic and wanted to avoid breaking sea ice on this mission to minimise our environmental presence,” said Justin Blank, senior scientist and project manager at Fairweather Science. “Flexrotor’s imaging was vital, but its small size and low noise were big advantages as well. Precision’s team brought it aboard the client’s ship quickly and efficiently, and the high safety standards demanded for Arctic operations were exceeded from start to finish. Our client is extremely pleased to have the mission accomplished with low impact, low cost, low risk, and not a single safety incident. With such strong results, I see many applications.”

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