TopCat is an electrically powered autonomous surface vessel that carries a range of advanced sensing equipment. The vessel uses the suspension system on the WAM-V platform to provide a stable base for the sensor suite and power systems.
Five metres long with a cruising speed of around 4 knots (8 km/h) and a cruise endurance close to 5 hours, TopCat is well suited to monitoring tasks in hostile conditions or protected areas. The vessel is currently capable of mapping and monitoring tasks using the onboard Lidar and Radar systems. Additional sensors can be attached via the underwater deployer to perform specific tasks such as sea bed mapping or environmental surveying.
A key part of developing unmanned vehicles is ensuring an easy to use and reliable user interface. Developing a system which both provides sufficient information for systems analysis while allowing non technical researchers to easily view data has been a focus for us.
Our user interface consists of a base control station which relays system information and safety data to the mission supervisor as well as a web based data interface which allows users to access and visualise only the data relevant to them.
The software which runs Topcat is based on the Robot Operating System (ROS). ROS is a collection of open source software libraries and tools which enable rapid development of robot software infrastructure. On top of this backbone we have developed multiple algorithms including object recognition and classification, mission planning, navigation and control systems. These systems allow Topcat to autonomously plan and execute given tasks such as mapping a selected area.