HydroSurv four vessels

HydroSurv is a Devon-based company working to deliver a future where all inland and coastal data acquisition is delivered by low-impact, economic autonomous vessels. Taking a holistic approach to this vision, the business designs and builds uncrewed survey vessels (USVs), and pioneers innovative environmental data capture methods, including processing and interpretive reporting techniques. 

In the midst of managing a fast-moving design and manufacture operation, as well as a rolling R&D trials programme underpinned by the UK Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, the business needed to push the envelope with regard to multi-USV coastal survey and sought to collaborative with the MBTC to make this happen. 

Opportunities for this new approach to marine survey are growing across the globe. By leveraging MBTC support to work the University of Plymouth, HydroSurv sought to raise market awareness of their offer by performing a complex and innovative sea trial within the Smart Sound Plymouth proving ground; simultaneously demonstrating the business’s latest USV product and data gathering service.

How did the MBTC support the business?

As a Devon-based SME, HydroSurv is eligible for free access to ‘USV CETUS’, a state of the art C-Worker 4 uncrewed surface vessel, made by L3 Harris and owned by the University of Plymouth. This platform is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of the University’s participation in the Marine Business Technology Centre (MBTC) project.

Free access to ‘USV CETUS’ includes access to Smart Sound Plymouth via the University’s fleet of research vessels and commercial workboats, with the University’s experienced skippers and technical experts on hand to support complex marine technology trials at sea.

Central to HydroSurv’s aims of democratising ocean data for new users, as well as established hydrographic and environmental survey commissioners, is the company’s range of ‘Rapid Environmental Assessment Vessels’ – electrically-propelled uncrewed craft for waterborne data collection within inland and nearshore environments.

Working with the University’s internationally recognised experts in marine science, a bathymetric survey using two USVs and a mothership vessel was planned to run along a representative areas of coastal and port infrastructure; the outer wall of Plymouth Sound’s Breakwater.

HydroSurv survey areas
Survey areas divided into three zones
HydroSurv bathymetric image

Both USVs were fitted with the same technology – a multibeam echo sounder supplied by leading manufacturer NORBIT – and used a complex sonar array to map a three-dimensional view of the seabed to exceptional high resolution. The data collection was supported by leading software provider QPS.

The survey was successfully completed with visible results by the three vessels in a co-ordinated pattern, requiring less people, less time and less carbon emissions.

To the left, a bathymetric image of an area south of Plymouth Sound shows the combined multibeam echosounder datasets from the three survey vessels.

David Hull, HydroSurv

"Perhaps the biggest achievement of this project was the amount of data collected in such a short space of time. In total, 60km of survey lines were covered by the three vehicles in just three hours, working out at a productive 20km line distance per hour – a great outcome which highlights the future importance of force-multiplier strategies using unmanned surface vehicles to increase efficiencies and reduce cost. Collaborating with the MBTC team has been a positive experience, and gaining access to assets including the USV CETUS is the best demonstration of the University supporting local marine technology businesses."
– David Hull, Chief Executive of HydroSurv Unmanned Survey (UK) Limited

The project's results

HydroSurv has proven that a force multiplier campaign using small-scale USVs is an effective means to deliver coastal survey at reduced time, cost, risk and environmental impact.

Working with the University of Plymouth’s leading hydrography department and their graduates, the company successfully grew its talent pool by appointing a new member of staff.

"Studying Ocean Exploration and Surveying at the University of Plymouth was filled with many exciting opportunities and experiences. Each module felt carefully planned out for me to gain the most out of the course. The course involved a range of fun field work, including a field trip to the Isles of Scilly, to prepared me for professional work. The opportunity to conduct my own research in my third year was challenging but led to an exciting career at HydroSurv. Securing a job in such an innovative company was a great end to 2020 and I am very grateful. After being with HydoSurv less than two months, I am already working on developing my third year dissertation to commercialise an innovative and economical means to habitat mapping. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the University of Plymouth and am looking forward to my future at HydroSurv."
– David Walker, Hydrographic Surveyor, HydroSurv Unmanned Survey (UK) Limited

HydroSurv survey craft
HydroSurv three vessels

What effects did these results have on the business?

HydroSurv has tangible evidence of their capability to fulfil commercial contracts in coastal survey utilising USV force multiplier campaigns.

In working with Smart Sound Plymouth via the University of Plymouth, the business was walked through the planning and permission protocols required to undertake professional sea trials that are compliant to the UK Marine Autonomous Systems Codes of Conduct. 

The business has also become plugged into potential global opportunities through joining the marine autonomy community of Smart Sound Plymouth via the MBTC and the Future Autonomous at Sea Technologies (FAST) Cluster.

“HydroSurv is an exciting young company whose efforts to better understand the marine environment are very much in tandem with our own. Like them, we recognise the potential of technology in this field and how it can help us find new ways of assessing our oceans from the seabed to the surface.

“It has always been a key focus for the University to not only develop and harness new and innovative technology, but to use it to benefit the local business community. It helps to highlight the South West’s status as a place where businesses can study and succeed, but also somewhere that has outstanding opportunities for both students and graduates and where creativity and inspiration are encouraged to flourish.”

Professor Richard Thompson OBE, Director of the University’s Marine Institute

HydroSurv vessels
USV Cetus tech team
HydroSurv vessels
HydroSurv logo large

Bringing automated unmanned survey together with advanced data technology, HydroSurv™ delivers end-to-end hydrographic, geophysical and environmental data acquisition, processing and interpretive reporting.

NORBIT logo large

NORBIT Subsea specialise in ultra-compact wideband multibeam sonars for subsea and surface platforms. In partnership with both the University of Plymouth and HydroSurv, NORBIT provided cutting edge equipment to support this collaboration.

QPS logo large

QPS combines powerful software with world class service. From hydrographic data collection to piloting, whatever you need, QPS provides the support and tools to match. In partnership with the University of Plymouth, QPS provided cutting-edge software to support this collaboration.

L3 Harris logo

From advanced autonomy for unmanned maritime vehicles to information warfare mission systems and networks, our team is ready to help navigate your next mission. Whether defence or civilian, L3Harris has the technologies you need at sea and below. USV Cetus was designed, manufactured and supplied by L3 Harris to the University of Plymouth.

Smart Sound Plymouth

Smart Sound Plymouth is Britain’s premier proving area for designing, testing and developing cutting-edge products and services for the marine sector, and is ideally suited for building and supporting the next generation of advanced marine technologies.

Co-ordinated through the Marine Business Technology Centre, Smart Sound Plymouth is a partnership between five organisations boasting considerable expertise in autonomous systems, environmental sensor technologies, alternative propulsion, advanced manufacturing and cybersecurity.

Smart Sound Plymouth diagram