FarSounder's Technology Blog
From time to time, FarSounder's development team likes to toot their own horn and tell the world about some of the cool things they are working on. We can't share all our secrets and development plans, but we can share some of the excitement that our engineers experience every day working for FarSounder.
Navigation in and around ice is a very important topic for vessels destined for the arctic or antarctic waters. The rise of adventure cruising, scientific expeditions, and commercial shipping through these areas is keeping the topic in the forefront of many conversations. Ship operators in these areas are interested not only in detecting and avoiding icebergs but in some cases also knowing how close they can get to ice that is clearly visible above the water. Navigation in such areas is clearly reliant on seaman experience. Since the sinking of the RMS Titanic, engineers around the world have been working on ways to detect icebergs using various sonar technologies. In this blog post, we summarize how FarSounder's 3D sonars can be used to navigate in sea ice conditions and how our obstacle avoidance sonars can be installed on ice classed vessels.
The ultimate purpose of our 3D sonar products is very simple. We want to let users see dangers hidden under the water's surface. With our forward looking navigation sonars, this means seeing the obstacles that ship operators want to avoid. In terms of our ship protection systems, this also means seeing underwater intruder threats. This objective seems straight forward. However, the marine world is a complicated environment with lots of objects that can reflect sonar signals. Sometimes localized environmental conditions can even prevent sonar signals from propogating effectively. We want to make sure that the output from our sonars reflect (pun intended) the reality of what is under the water. This means that somehow we need to get an idea of what is actually there to determine if the outputs of our sonars are correct. This information is called "Ground Truth" and is the bain (or bounty) of every scientist and engineer who works on sensing technologies.
Ship strike is a major cause of death for great whales. Our sonars can be used to help avoid these ship strikes, but we need to be sure we do so without introducing new problems. Motivation for FarSounder's technology began with an interest in helping vessels avoid hitting whales. We've done this by developing sonar products able to detect many types of whale sized objects. There are many types of sonars, and some are generally believed to be harmful. Our sonar products, however, are not in that class. Our systems operate at sound levels, frequencies, and durations that are safe for marine mammals and are environmentally benign.
Given an echo returned from an environment within sonar's field of view, the ultimate goal of a FarSounder product is to decide whether the echo corresponds to a true target in the 3D space. The target could be the sea floor, an in-water obstacles, marine life, a diver, etc. This detection problem is fundamental to all of our products irrespective of their purpose: navigation or threat detection. FarSounder engineers have developed several tools that make their life easier when they need to unravel the complexity of underwater detection problems. One of the tools central to research and development at FarSounder is our sonar performance prediction tool, code named: DAMUS.
As FarSounder's customer base grows, we are continually learning about new applications for our navigation sonar products. As a marine company focused on engineering unique technologies, we obviously have an interest in the greater world of marine science. Though we do not study the occean per se, our products can be used as tools to help others study the ocean. This blog entry is intended to highlight some of the applications of our 3D navigation sonars for Research Vessels. With these products, we hope not only to provide safer navigation to users but also add some compelling reasons to add our tool to the researcher's arsenal of tools.
As technical people interested in the "magic" behind the scenes, FarSounder's engineers often are curious about technology behind many of the products we use. Sometimes, some of those companies share a little bit about the choices and technologies that went into their products. We thought we'd do the same and discuss some of FarSounder's behind the scenes technology as it relates to our recently open sourced protobuf-matlab project.
For an end user new to FarSounder sonars, the idea of retrofitting a sonar into an existing hull can seem daunting. However, once the details are examined, the process is relatively straight forward. Approximately 50% of our customer installations are refits to older hulls. Even some of the New Builds that have our sonars have approached integration of our systems as a "refit" when our products have been added to the ship's specifications late in the build process. When beginning to consider one of our 3-dimensional forward looking navigation or diver detection sonar systems, potential customers are often concerned with the installation design process and any potential hydrodynamic impact on the hull. These are important questions to which we believe there are some simple answers. The purpose of this blog posting is to explain the basics of refitting a vessel for our 3-dimensional forward looking navigation and diver detection sonar systems.
When considering a sonar product for use in navigation, it is important to consider a number of parameters and system characteristics. Obviously, the ability to look ahead is important. However, "where", "how", and "when" the sonar looks ahead are characteristics that will determine if a particular sonar is suitable for navigation and practical obstacle avoidance. A sonar's overall system design impacts these characteristics significantly. Scanning sonars are one of the most common system designs for advanced sonar solutions as they are relatively inexpensive and relatively small. This makes them a good solution for many applications. Unfortunately, real-time navigation is not one of them. This blog post illustrates the advantage of phased array processing sonars over scanning sonars for navigation applications.
Recently, we've decided make the standard SDK for our navigation product available to 3rd party developers free of charge for non-commercial applications. This makes sense in today's information driven world, since here at FarSounder, we are in the business of selling sonars and providing ship operators with the best underwater situational awareness possible. We're not in the business of selling closed APIs. This opens up an exciting number of possibilities for people interested in integrating FarSounder’s forward looking sonar data into their products.
One of the aspects of working at FarSounder that is pretty exciting to our team is all the field testing we do. We make sure that all of our developers, engineers, and sales staff get a chance to participate in some level of testing in order to make sure everyone has a solid understanding of our product. We develop 3D forward looking sonars and diver detection systems primarily for ship based solutions. Obviously, this means that we do a lot of testing on various vessels around the world. For the most part, these vessels are big enough to have nice cabins for our equipment and to shelter us from the elements.