Future Vision for Autonomous Ocean Observations
Autonomous platforms already make observations over a wide range of temporal and spatial scales, measuring salinity, temperature, nitrate, pressure, oxygen, biomass, and many other parameters. However, the observations are not comprehensive. Future autonomous systems need to be more affordable, more modular, more capable and easier to operate. Creative new types of platforms and new compact, low power, calibrated and stable sensors are under development to expand autonomous observations. Communications and recharging need bandwidth and power which can be supplied by standardized docking stations. In situ power generation will also extend endurance for many types of autonomous platforms, particularly autonomous surface vehicles. Standardized communications will improve ease of use, interoperability, and enable coordinated behaviors. Improved autonomy and communications will enable adaptive networks of autonomous platforms. Improvements in autonomy will have three aspects: hardware, control, and operations. As sensors and platforms have more onboard processing capability and energy capacity, more measurements become possible. Control systems and software will have the capability to address more complex states and sophisticated reactions to sensor inputs, which allows the platform to handle a wider variety of circumstances without direct operator control. Operational autonomy is increased by reducing operating costs. To maximize the potential of autonomous observations, new standards and best practices are needed. In some applications, focus on common platforms and volume purchases could lead to significant cost reductions. Cost reductions could enable order-of-magnitude increases in platform operations and increase sampling resolution for a given level of investment. Energy harvesting technologies should be integral to the system design, for sensors, platforms, vehicles, and docking stations. Connections are needed between the marine energy and ocean observing communities to coordinate among funding sources, researchers, and end users. Regional teams should work with global organizations such as IOC/GOOS in governance development. International networks such as emerging glider operations (EGO) should also provide a forum for addressing governance. Networks of multiple vehicles can improve operational efficiencies and transform operational patterns. There is a need to develop operational architectures at regional and global scales to provide a backbone for active networking of autonomous platforms.