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Hull Identification System for Marine Autonomous Robotics

This project will develop a multi-purpose inspection and maintenance platform with an advanced navigation system for marine applications. The device developed will offer a means to undertake hull inspections and maintenance, thereby improving the potential safety and environmental impact of vessels.

Tags: Water


Both the global and EU shipping fleet continue to grow. Over 3 billion tonnes of goods are handled in the EU, as well as the movement of over 300 million people, and the sector employs more than 2.5 million people in the EU. Whilst shipping is one of the cleanest forms of transportation, the fouling of ships reduces efficiency and increases the consumption of fuel burnt. Vessel safety has improved in recent years; however structural failures continue to occur. Therefore any system which is capable of continuously monitoring the integrity of the vessel’s hull will provide a valuable operational tool.

HISMAR is intended to be a multifunctional robotic platform, which will offer the option to perform specific inspection or maintenance tasks, such as structural integrity monitoring of the ship’s hull or carrying out cleaning. This project offers a means to undertake hull inspection and maintenance effectively and efficiently, thereby extending the safe working life of the vessel.

The project is highly relevant to the EU Maritime Policy and thereby EU business and society. The improved environmental performance and safety will support shipping operators through reduced fuel, insurance and other operating costs. The project will provide improved safety, reduced shipping costs, reduced emissions and employment opportunities, all of benefit to society.


The proposed dead reckoning method will use optical technology so that surface feature changes are tracked. As platform slip and drift can occur, known hull features will be used to updated the current position. With a combination of Hall Effect and optical sensors, a map of the structure of the vessel will be intelligently learnt, stored and recalled. By saturating the hull with a localised magnetic field, Hall Effect sensors can detect subsurface strengthening struts and other hull structural features, which will be used as unique landmarks.

The device will be able to partially complete its tasks whilst in one port then be re-launched at successive points to complete the task elsewhere. The platform can be launched whenever the vessel is in port or at anchor. It will also be deployable in a dry-dock situation.

Cleaning concept
Cleaning concept
Newcastle University

Description of work

The initial stage of the project consists of a full investigation of end-user requirements including a cost-benefit analysis. Following the initial investigation, the design, manufacture, testing and analysis of the navigational sensory system and its test cell will commence, resulting in the construction of a prototype sensory system for platform navigation. The next stages of the project will include design and construction of a hull structure mapping system, and the design and construction of the drive and electromagnetic attachment system. Finally the buoyancy outer shell will be designed and constructed. At every stage, each element will be fully tested and analysed before the complete system is tested in dry and underwater conditions. Full field trials will be undertaken.

Technical innovations are a key element of the project, particularly relating to the optical dead reckoning system underwater. Intellectual property, areas of novelty and patentability are managed as part of the exploitation and dissemination work package.

The project is managed through eight work packages, six which deal with research and innovation, one which covers exploitation and dissemination and, lastly, a project management work package. Each work package has a work package leader and is broken down into tasks with clearly defined objectives, task leaders and deliverables.


There are key deliverables throughout the project, which relate to each task and include the design of equipment and the development of resultant prototypes. There are also deliverables associated with the project management and the exploitation and dissemination strategy. The final deliverable of the project is a fully integrated HISMAR system which has been tested and analysed, including full field trials.

The project influences economic benefits to ship operators due to the reduced operating costs. The project has a positive impact on the environment through reduced fuel consumption, reduced emissions and a reduction in the likelihood of structural failure. Employment opportunities in the areas of electronics, robotics and marine servicing industries will be developed through the manufacture and use of the system. The underwater hull maintenance industry can use the product, retraining its staff in the use of the robot, thereby reducing the safety problems associated with diving operations, which is a hazardous activity. These positive impacts will help to develop the commercial market for this product.

The product will also support the changing legislation associated with hull cleaning which is becoming more onerous. It will also allow ports to comply with their obligations to the EU white paper on port pollution.