North America still leads, but…
With expenditures predominantly centered on military unmanned technology, North America is slated to continue its global lead in AUV spending through 2018. Overall market share, however, is forecast to decline from 64 percent to 60 percent.
The highest growth rate will be experienced by Africa and South America because of activity in deep-water oil and gas drilling.
In Asia, deep-water drilling will dominate AUV industries of India, Indonesia and Malaysia; Japan?s investment will be geared toward research activities while China will center on military AUV activity.
Major exception for Japan: Robo-sub development, together with the U.S. Navy, of AUV craft capable of patrolling the 1.4-million-square-mile South China Sea for a month at a time.
See related: U.S. and Japanese Navies Team Up on Robo-Sub
In truth, oil, gas and mining companies have no choice but to develop AUV capabilities. If they are after scarce resources?the richest sources of which sit beneath oceans that cover 71 percent of the Earth?s surface?companies will need automation to go where workers cannot.
Deep-sea mining is a prime example. Enormous fields of rare-earth elements (REEs)?integral to electronics, like rechargeable auto batteries, lie upwards of three miles under our oceans.
Take, for example, the battery in a Toyota Prius hybrid that requires more than 10 kg of the rare earth lanthanum. Three million Priuses have been sold, representing 30 million kilograms?some 33,000 tons.
That is just one rare earth in one model car.
See related: Robotics in Oil, Gas & Mining: 2015-2020
Key developments, drivers and markets
Eduardo Ribeiro, writing for Douglas-Westwood, has authored World AUV Market Forecast 2014-2018, and points out the salient developments, drivers and markets that will power the AUV industry over the next five years.
Although it is weighted toward a superior North American position dominated by military applications, it is remarkable in its conclusions, which are very much on point with Robotics Business Review?s Robotics in Oil, Gas & Mining: 2015-2020 (see above).
The main difference between Ribeiro?s World AUV Market Forecast 2014-2018, and Robotics in Oil, Gas & Mining: 2015-2020, is the enormous impact that commercial mining (oil, gas and minerals) will play, which is downplayed in favor of the military through 2018.
Observations through 2018
Key drivers include sensors, battery endurance and positioning:
?Multiple sensors form a key component and continue to increase in data quality and resolution. Endurance is also under constant development, with rechargeable batteries powering the majority of AUVs now in use, while non-rechargeable batteries offer greater endurance, but at a significant cost.
?A small number of AUVs use fuel cells, but their use is not widespread due to concerns with the storage and disposal of the chemicals. Even small AUVs typically now have quoted endurance of more than 10 hours, with larger vehicles in the 50-70 hour range.
?High endurance is central, as it enables AUVs to offer vast reduction in time lost in operations, in addition to the time saving when turning from one survey line to another when compared to a survey vessel towing sensors in deep water.
The particular application of the AUV and the performance of the navigation system payload that it carries will drive the level of accuracy required in the positioning of the vehicle whilst it is underwater and unable to benefit from GPS updates.
?This is crucial for hydrographical activities to comply with the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) requirements. Civil hydrography, which includes oil & gas, is to emerge as an application in 2014.
?High-end navigation solutions are based around units that measure the motion of the vehicle in three dimensions, as well as being able to receive positioning updates from external sources such as vessel-based tracking systems, which are often supplemented by tracking the AUV?s movement relative to the seabed using the Doppler shift of an acoustic signal.
?Unmanned launch and recovery is a goal of many developers as that phase of operations is perhaps the riskiest for the personnel involved. The launch and recovery requirement and methodology for AUVs vary. Smaller units are routinely deployed from the beach or small craft, whereas larger vehicles require the use of either a vessel?s deck crane or a dedicated launch and recovery system. This is an area in which many operators think there should be further improvements.
?Future developments also include Hybrid Underwater Localization System (HULS), which enables data and imagery collection in real-time via a fiber-optic link, Large Diameter/Displacement AUV (LDUUV) to provide ultra-long endurance capability using fuel cells, and a number of military developments such as use on the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), Remote Multi-Mission Vehicle (RMMV), SEAL Delivery System (SDS) and Surface MCM (SMCM) known as the ?Shark?.
Ocean research & the commercial sector
The ocean research sector will also remain strong with increasing attention to topics around environmental issues, resulting in a growing demand for data from environmental sensing and research mapping, including from deep water and the Arctic.
As AUV technology matures in such applications, it should enable continued growth in those areas that are unsuitable for conventional access methods.
For the commercial sector, 2014 could be a turning point in AUV market uptake. The commercial use of AUVs has seen only moderate growth in recent years.
However, the technology has evolved and while oil & gas operators remain risk averse, opportunities in the commercial sector could increase, enabled by developments in areas such as battery endurance, navigation systems, tracking systems, vehicle stability, data and imagery.