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 Ultrabeam Hydrographic is a new company that has been set up by Gabriel Walton and Andy McLeay, both of whom have outstanding industry experience in hydrographic surveying.

The company is focused on providing ultra high resolution hydrographic survey solutions for clients around the world who have marine based assets. Ultrabeam can survey assets as varied as bridge structures, quay walls and harbours, subsea pipelines and cables, offshore renewable energy installations and oil and gas platforms.

Only vessel of its kind

In order to take their work to the next level, the company has been working on a unique new type of unmanned surface vessel, the Ultra-USV, a 3 metre catamaran which has been specifically designed to gather fast, accurate and highly detailed survey data in challenging inshore environments. The craft is able to carry a full suite of survey tools including multibeam sonar, laser scanner, high resolution cameras, imaging sonar and sub-bottom profilers to provide a fully integrated holistic survey methodology. It is believed to be the only unmanned survey vessel of its kind.

Gabriel Walton, Technical Director for Ultrabeam, takes up the story:

“We had already developed a specialist survey methodology to create industry leading data sets in terms of resolution and accuracy for 3D asset surveying. The challenge for us was to find a way of combining this with an inspection platform that could be tightly controlled, while also overcoming some of the safety risks associated with asset surveying.

A game-changer for the industry

Our thinking led to the creation of the Ultra-USV, a unique type of small craft which is powered by 4 electric thrusters in a vectored thrust layout. This thruster configuration means the craft can make precisely controlled movements in any direction, independent of the vessel heading. In this sense, its movements are very similar to that of an aerial drone, and the control system that we have developed is indeed based on a system currently used for drones.

This type of dynamic positioning offers us a huge advantage in marine surveying. For example, the Ultra-USV can hold its position accurately even in river currents and can also achieve much closer inspection of features than would be possible with any conventional craft.

“This technology will be a real game-changer for the industry. It will mean that we can offer our clients a unique in-house platform which can be adapted to many varying survey requirements and which will allow us do things that were previously thought impossible or too risky in inshore surveying.”

Outstanding potential

Leo McLeman, Marine Challenge Fund Lead at Cornwall Development Company, says:

“The Marine-i team was very impressed with the innovative thinking that has gone into the development of the Ultra-USV concept and the outstanding commercial potential that this new technology offers. It is another example of the pioneering 21st Century technologies that are coming out of Cornwall. The grant funding support that we are providing will enable Ultrabeam to proceed with a fully engineered vessel for extensive sea trials, with enhanced thruster technology and an improved navigation system.”

Gabriel Walton concludes:

“This is a very exciting time for the company. The help we have received from Marine-i is allowing us to accelerate to the next stage of development for the Ultra-USV and we now hope to have this unique new technology in commercial operation by the end of 2018.”

To see a video of an Ultra-USV 3D survey using multibeam and laser carried out on Mevagissey Harbour, which demonstrates the detail and accuracy of the 3D data, click here.