A sense of adventure is what drives autonomous unmanned vehicle researchers as they boldly go where nobody has gone before.
AUV technology has come forwards in leaps and bounds in the past several years, and the Australian Maritime College is the home of one of the latest models to successful deploy for a mission in Antarctica.
nupiri muka, or Eye of the Sea, is a yellow AUV that measures seven metres long and is 1600 kilograms.
The $5 million AUV, named nupiri muka, is the first untethered Australian AUV to dive under an ice shelf and joins those from the UK and Sweden as the only AUVs in the world with this capability.
Funded by the Australian Research Council through the Antarctic Gateway Partnership, nupiri muka was successfully deployed under the Srsdal Glacier ice shelf during the summer Antarctic season with support from the Australian Antarctic Program.
Peter King from the University's Australian Maritime College, who led a support team of engineers and scientists, said the successful first deployment under the ice opened the way for more ambitious polar research projects under ice shelves and sea ice in the future.
MORE FROM UNDER THE SURFACE
- Meet Tasmania's Defence Advocate Steve Gilmore
- Anchors up for future as AMC surges ahead with defence precinct plan
- Students' mettle tested at AMC survival centre
- Attack class submarines in AMC graduate's sights
- What will students learn at the new AMC defence precinct?
- How pairing water and electricity may held address climate change
"This summer's deployment under the Srsdal Glacier means Australia has joined a very select list of countries with an AUV that's capable of independently exploring under the polar ice," he said.
"The way in which ice shelves melt has a lot to do with what is happening underneath and how ocean circulation and water properties (temperature, salinity) interact with the ice.
"The only way to research certain processes on a relevant scale is with an AUV, where we can collect large amounts of data across extensive areas.
Mr King said ice melt was occurring at the point where the ice shelf was meeting the ocean, so data to collect what that looked like, how thick the ice is, and the temperature of the water will be valuable in understanding or predicting what will happen in the future.
He said without AUV technology, this simply wouldn't have been possible.
"Trying to get under the ice is extremely difficult. You can't send people down there because it's too dangerous and deploying to get under the ice is also limited," he said.
"AUVs have opened up opportunities to explore places we haven't been able to go before."
The Director of the Antarctic Gateway Partnership, Professor Richard Coleman, congratulated the AUV team on its significant achievements, which included a rare view underneath an ice shelf in the lead-up to a calving event from the Srsdal Glacier.
"Completing this successful first deployment is a major step forward and testament to the skill, experience and detailed planning of the support team," Professor Coleman said.
"Activities such as these require a significant investment of both time and money, and deploying equipment in extreme environments such as Antarctica always carries an element of risk.
"However, the potential scientific rewards that nupiri muka can deliver are enormous.
"Now that we have shown what the AUV is capable of we look forward to realising its great potential during future research projects," Professor Coleman said.
Mr King said working with AUVs was more akin to space exploration than any other industry, because it was about going to places that humans had never been.
The success of nupiri muka Antarctic mission shows how vital the UAV facility at AMC actually is.
Mr King said the use of AUVs was becoming more common and the AMC was well placed to help educate and train that growing market.
The Royal Australian Navy has engaged AMC to train its soldiers in the use of AUVs as it moves to engage more of them in its fleet.
"The Navy has committed to getting more AUVs so they are coming to us for training; we have been operating a basic AUV operating course a more advanced course for them," Mr King said,
The Navy trains and re-trains its soldiers once or twice a year at the AMC and Mr King said he believed that market would only grow in the future.
"We are the ideal place to deliver that training. The potential for it to grow is massive," he said.
Mr King said businesses were more amenable to using AUVs than ever before as they begin to see how successful they can be and the applications for the data.
"Companies are realising now they can trust them - the AUVs," he said.
"There are links that are emerging but there were companies that wanted to connect with us immediately."
He said as AUVs became more commonplace in industry and business, he believed the demand for them would increase.
Have you had your say on The Examiner's election survey?