The PI?s propose to develop an Autonomous eXpendable Instrument System (AXIS), an advanced probe autolauncher system with higher capacity, greater interactivity, and more efficient operation than existing research-oriented designs. AXIS will streamline data collection using expendable probes, facilitate novel and interactive observational approaches, and reduce both the operational cost and logistical complexity of probe deployments from research and commercial vessels. Support is requested to advance AXIS development from an existing mechanical prototype to a pair of fully-functional and field-tested systems. Initial installation of AXIS is proposed aboard the R/V Oceanus and the M/V Oleander, a container vessel that is continuing a 30-year program of regular measurements spanning the Gulf Stream between Bermuda and New Jersey.

Broader Impacts:

The broader impacts of this proposal mainly the community benefits of improved sampling. AXIS will help to optimize sampling with these probes. It will help to reduce at-sea personnel requirements and costs. The 2-way communication aspect makes possible adaptive sampling to resolve transient or sparse features. There is no explicit mention of teaching or training, although Fratantoni does interact with graduate students.

Project Report

Expendable bathythermograph (XBT) probes are deployed worldwide for rapid characterization of mesoscale oceanographic features and for routine monitoring of ocean climate and circulation. Research and commercial vessels routinely deploy these probes as part of a global observing network that provides data critical to our understanding of the oceans and their short- and long-term variability. Recognizing a need for a more efficient and flexible deployment system for expendable probes, particularly those deployed from minimally-staffed commercial vessels of opportunity, we developed the Autonomous eXpendable Instrument System (AXIS), an advanced robotic probe autolauncher system with higher capacity, greater interactivity, and more efficient operation than existing designs. AXIS streamlines data collection using expendable probes, facilitates novel and interactive observational approaches, and reduces both the operational cost and logistical complexity of probe deployment from research and commercial vessels. When broadly implemented, AXIS has the potential to transform routine data gathering by the research and VOS fleets by allowing investigators to project a continual and interactive presence at sea. We see tremendous untapped potential for community interaction with what amounts to a global-scale near-real-time upper-ocean observatory. In the first few months of the project we worked closely with engineers at Lockheed Martin Sippican, manufacturers of both expendable probe and the computer interfaces / control units required to use the probes at sea. This interaction enabled us to develop small, low-power hardware and software to replicate and expand on tasks normally done at sea with a full-size PC interfaced to a Sippican deck unit. We then developed a compact and efficient rotating launch magazine with a capacity of 12 expendable probes (XBT, XCTD, etc.), and an automated pin-puller device which removes each probe’s cotter pin at the moment of deployment. The AXIS mechanisms and electronics are housed in a single Hardigg weathertight plastic box. The box is topped by a solar panel which will provide (under most operating conditions) sufficient energy to run the AXIS mechanisms, computers, and satellite communications. With NSF/OTIC support a single prototype AXIS unit was constructed and successfully installed in Spring 2011 aboard the M/V Oleander, a container vessel which makes weekly transits across the Gulf Stream between New Jersey and Bermuda. AXIS performance on this vessel has been exceptional for more than 18 months. All data collected is immediately integrated into the NOAA global observational data stream, and real-time science and engineering information is displayed on a public web site. This intensive real-world testing of the AXIS prototype revealed several aspects which required additional development effort, including the user interface and automated onboard quality control. To facilitate these additional development tasks we constructed a second-generation prototype as a laboratory-based engineering testbed. The original AXIS prototype remains installed aboard M/V Oleander serving as both a long-term engineering trial and as a live demonstration for users/agencies interested in the technology. The second prototype enables rapid local development in our WHOI laboratory without requiring frequent (costly, time-consuming, disruptive) trips to Newark, NJ to uninstall and reinstall the original prototype. The new AXIS prototype incorporates additional (minor, iterative) improvements to the broader electronic and mechanical architecture of the platform. We continue to work with Oleander Project PI’s Rossby and Flagg, NOAA collaborator Hare, and contacts at NOAA/AOML to integrate the AXIS-derived datastream into the existing global XBT data processing and archiving system. It is our hope that the first AXIS system will eventually reduce the workload of the Oleander ride-along technicians and, eventually, enable weekly (vs. the current monthly) acquisition of NJ-BER XBT transects.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Ocean Sciences (OCE)
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Kandace S. Binkley
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Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Woods Hole
United States
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