High-Accuracy Inertial Sensors & Acoustic Positioning Systems for Marine, Maritime & Offshore Applications

3D Shipwreck Model Built From AUV Imagery

Using the Hydrus AUV to capture geo-referenced imagery from Rottnest ship graveyard, Advanced Navigation worked with Curtin University HIVE and the WA Museum to curate and display a high-resolution replica of a 100-year-old shipwreck By William Mackenzie / 04 Apr 2024
3D Shipwreck Model Built From AUV Imagery
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Advanced Navigation’s autonomous underwater drone (AUV) ‘Hydrus‘ has discovered a 64-metre shipwreck scattered across the seafloor in the depths of the Rottnest ship graveyard, located off the coast of Western Australia in the Indian Ocean. 

Hydrus gathered 4K geo-referenced imagery and video footage to generate a 3D digital twin of the shipwreck. A high-resolution replica of the wreck was then generated by shipwreck photogrammetry specialists, Curtin University HIVE. 

Advanced Navigation asserts that sending a human diver or remotely operated vehicle (ROV) down to less than 50m depth costs AUD$20,000, with depths more than 50m costing to upwards of AUD$100,000, as well as carrying an element of risk. 

Hydrus’ compact design (weighing around 7kg) eliminates the need for large vessels, complex launch systems and professional dive teams. When exploring Rottnest, Hydrus was able to reduce the surveying cost by up to 75%, enabling the Advanced Navigation team to conduct more frequent and extensive surveying of the wreck in a shorter time period.

Historical Significance

Advanced Navigation shared the shipwreck data with the WA Museum for their public archives and can be seen in life-size form at the Curtin University HIVE on their immersive Cylinder display. 

Upon examination by Dr. Ross Anderson, Curator at the WA Museum, the shipwreck was unveiled to be a coal hulk from Fremantle Port’s bygone days, and over 100-years-old. 

Advanced Navigation say that historically, these old iron ships were workhorses used to service steamships in Western Australia. Most of the fifteen old iron and wooden ships recorded in the shipwreck graveyard were built as fast clipper ships to ply the lucrative grain and wool trades between the UK and Australia, built in the 1860-80s and scuttled around the 1920s-30s. They now lie dormant, waiting to be explored.

Beginning in the 1900s, the Rottnest graveyard became a burial ground for ships, naval vessels, aircraft and secretive submarines. The majority of these wrecks have yet to be discovered due to their depths ranging from 50m to 200m. Sourcing data from this depth often requires specialized equipment and training, causing the mission to be overly expensive and challenging.

Future endeavors

Advanced Navigation states that only 24% of the ocean has been explored and charted by humans. Included in the unexplored 76% are 3 million undiscovered shipwrecks, with 1,819 recorded wrecks currently lying off the shore of Western Australia. Each one holds a key to understanding past culture, history and science.

Advanced Navigation say that they are set to uncover more mysteries, like those of the luxurious SS Koombana – an ultra-luxury passenger ship ferrying more than 150 passengers before it vanished into the swirling wrath of a cyclone in 1912, and plan to continue exploring the Indian Ocean with Hydrus in the hopes of discovering more of the world’s best kept secrets.

Peter Baker, Subsea Product Manager at Advanced Navigation, stated; “Small enough to be deployed by a single person, Hydrus utilised its advanced navigation and communication sensors to capture 4K video and imagery simultaneously. 

“Upon returning to the surface, the team analysed the data and was thrilled to find Hydrus had examined a 64-metre shipwreck. Learning the exact coordinates of the ship, the team used two Hydrus units to perform three missions, completing the full survey in just under five hours. This level of efficiency is crucial for underwater exploration where costs can heighten quickly.

Curtin University HIVE Associate Professor, Andrew Woods, commented; “The inclusion of navigational coordinates for geolocation is a fantastic feature of Hydrus. It can’t be overstated how much this structure in data assists with constraining feature matching and reducing the processing time, especially in larger datasets.”

Dr. Ross Anderson, Curator at the WA Museum, added; “This is the clearest and most comprehensive data set the WA Museum has received from this particular wreck. This type of high-resolution imagery is invaluable for maritime archaeological research and education on underwater cultural heritage. With tools like Hydrus, we can obtain accurate maps and 3D models of deepwater historic shipwrecks and learn more about untold stories beneath the waves.”

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Posted by William Mackenzie Connect & Contact