July 03, 2024

SAIMI helps propel Maritime Innovation to new heights at Robotics Units

The South African International Maritime Institute (SAIMI) is playing a pivotal role in driving groundbreaking technologies such as autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) and research vessel camera systems to support local industry and help grow the Maritime Economy in South Africa and the region. 

SAIMI has partnered with eNtsa, an internationally-recognised innovation hub that supports research, design and technology assimilation for the broader Manufacturing sector, in the promotion of Maritime Innovation Programmes through Nelson Mandela University's Marine Robotics Unit (MRU). 

The hub is a registered Engagement Institute at NMU and hosts several programmes and projects to advance engineering support for technology and human resource development within South Africa. 

The MRU programme supports SAIMI's objectives to realise its mandate by the Department of Higher Education, Science and Technology (DHET) to support, facilitate, and co-ordinate skills development, capacity building, research, technology and innovation in all sectors of the Maritime Industry.

The MRU's successes already include a second-generation autonomous boat that has been selected to provide on-site support and measurement services on the ReMoTurb project in Mozambique's Bazaruto Archipelago, the aim of which is to develop a greater understanding of the coastal and shelf system. 

The students' work is in many ways viewed as a game-changer for the region's maritime sector. 

"The MRU is equipped with specialised skills and advanced engineering capacity through the relationship with the School of Engineering, the Built Environment and Technology. It also enjoys support from the Department of Physics and the Centre for Broadband Communication," explains SAIMI chief executive, Odwa Mtati. 

"This support assists the MRU to test new boundaries for platform design as well as development and technology transfer relating to maritime science and automation. Expertise within the field of automation also enables the unit to provide services to present and prospective clients." 

One of the students' most notable achievements is developing an autonomous camera system for observation of the "four-legged" coelacanth fish in African waters. 

According to MRU manager and eNtsa engineering director Andrew Young, due to limited visibility underwater, vehicles such as AUVs and remote operating vehicles (ROVs) use sonar for sensing the environment. These sensor types are expensive, however, and in response one of his students developed the camera solution which can be calibrated to work underwater. 

Shape"The system was demonstrated by identifying and following a picture of a fish and the student has committed to continuing the project as part of his master's qualification," Young says. 

Another standout project at the MRU, in collaboration with MerSETA (manufacturing, engineering, and related services), is a state-of­ the-art ocean glider. 

Developed using software programming resources provided by SAIMI, the remote­ controlled glider is able to gather data to a depth of 200m below the ocean surface. The project team intends for the device to gather information to enable various research entities to increase ocean monitoring activities and influence legislation with scientific evidence. 

Mtati says the MRU remains at the forefront of engineering technology thanks to various NMU faculties collaborating with the Mozambique Institute of Oceanography, the CSIR, National Oceanographic Centre (UK), Plymouth University (UK), Montpellier University (France) and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. 

He is in no doubt that marine robotics can add value to food security and sustainability systems. "This research can help build resilience to long­ term environmental changes and ultimately assist in reducing poverty. Many jobs can also be created thanks to the introduction of this technology," he says. 

Young concurs, saying there is excitement at both industry and research level for the MRU's ability to support oceanographic research, develop equipment and provide training



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