Technology development in the maritime industry is moving forward faster than ever. Underwater surveying companies are now more open to diving deeper in adopting breakthrough technological advancements, which are streamlining not just the surveying process but port/asset management as well.
For many years, airborne lasers were used for seabed mapping with a level of high accuracy and coverage. However, it had limitations in accuracy due to bending when the signal crosses the water surface.
In recent times, airborne lasers have been taken over by subsea mounted lasers for higher accuracy and saving time for companies. High precision lasers may be expensive but not more than a good multibeam echo sounder, allowing engineers with the precision and detail needed for detecting and assessing any damage.
Back in the 1800s, hydrographic surveys required sailors to throw sounding boards and weighted ropes overboard until they hit the seabed, while cross referencing with pre-established points on a map, while the early 20th century technology involved dragging a weighted wire underwater along a vessel to see if it hit any objects underwater.
Since the emergence of single-beam echo sounders (SBES) as a means of identifying depths and topography of sea floors, the labor and time intensive processes are now much easier. Multibeam echo sounders have been developed and are capable of mapping various points in a single ping. Some ports plan to experiment with autonomous drones for soundings to speed up the process and make it more compatible with busy shipping schedules.
From 2D to 3D and 4D
4D technology adds the aspect of time in this equation, with the ability to view an area over time gives it a more realistic insight, e.g scour development may be monitored over time. 4D aspect means predictive assessment or decision making would become common and accurate, but it is a game of patience as data sets collected over time can permit this.
Trends to expect
The next step for hydrographic surveys could possibly incorporate adopting newer technologies like artificial intelligence, virtual reality or automated data collection. VR technology is gaining momentum in various industries, therefore it’s only a matter of time 3D data would be viewed via VR. The next steps also rely in finding out newer ways to detect types of objects and materials underwater for more advanced dredging operations. In terms of automated data collection, drones are now being experimented with to optimize bathymetric surveys. It offers numerous possibilities especially in environments, which are difficult to access or dangerous for humans.
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