On March 8, 2014, Malaysian flight MH370 mysteriously disappeared. And now almost three years later, a Norwegian research ship is on its way to follow some educated guesses about its location in hopes of finding what’s left of the aircraft.
Ocean Infinity, a company based in Houston, Texas, is leasing the “Seabed Constructor“, which will be accompanied by a fleet of eight autonomous submarine drones called HUGINs. Each HUGIN is 5 meters and weighs 1,800 kilograms. They are encased in titanium in order to protect the electronic innards against the atmospheric pressure.
Some experts believe the plane crashed around 1,500 kilometers west of Australia, but the reality is that nobody actually knows where MH370 is.
According to The Economist, the disappearance of MH370 lead to the largest search in aviation history. The search was funded by Malaysian, Chinese, and Australian governments, and conducted by Dutch firm Fugro. After three years of going through 120,000 square kilometers of ocean, MH370 was still not found.
However, the Seabed Constructor and its HUGINs are supposedly more efficient than traditional search methods and technology.
According to Josh Broussard, Ocean Infinity’s technical director, an 890 square kilometer area was able to be scanned in one day with only six HUGINs. With this capability, Broussard believes they’ll be able to scan the are in question in about 100 days.
Scanning would begin with a new 25,000 square kilometer zone deemed as the most likely resting place of the plane by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.
“Ocean Infinity’s approach is to use a team of eight autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), each one equipped with sonar sensors. Using multiple vehicles drastically increases the amount of seabed that can be scanned each day,” explained scientist and MH370 independent researcher Victor Iannello. “The excellent maneuverability of the autonomous vehicles, which are essentially underwater drones, also make them more efficient at scanning mountainous structures on the seafloor.”
While there are 770,000 drones currently registered with the FAA, these are no ordinary drones. Each HUGIN can dive up to 6,000 meters, being able to easily reach the ocean floor. The drones will be launched from the “stinger” of the Seabed Constructor. The drone technology allows the HUGINs to communicate with an acoustic modem, allowing it to send signals to the ship’s hull and then up to the vessel’s own modem.
Additionally, each HUGIN can run for up to 60 hours. While polymers have been used as concrete overlays for over 35 years, in this case, they are used in a lithium-polymer battery pack.
The ultimate goal of this mission is to find the plane’s flight recorder. If this is found, it may be able to explain what exactly happened to the airplane before, during, and after its mysterious disappearance.