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‘A real coup’: N.L. company’s advanced sonar technology being used in search for missing MH370

The search for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which disappeared without a trace in March 2014 over the Indian Ocean with 239 people on board, will resume next week.

Ocean Infinity, a Houston-based company that specializes in geophysical seabed data mapping, has inked a contract with the government of Malaysia that stipulates it will only collect a fee if it finds the wreckage.

Kraken Robotics Inc. of St. John’s has secured a $3 million contract to provide synthetic aperture sonar technology to Ocean Infinity’s vessel that is trying to find MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean.​

“This is equivalent to finding a special needle in a haystack of needles,” said Karl Kenny, president and CEO of Kraken Robotics.

Kenny said his company began developing the sonar technology that will aid in the search about five years ago.

High resolution sonar senors are installed on this AUV, which is ‘free flying,’ meaning it will not be tethered to the search vessel, Seabed Constructor, during the search for MH370. As many as eight such AUVs will be used in the search. (CBC)

This past September the company entered into a contract with Ocean Infinity to equip eight of its autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) with this technology.

“In essence the sonar is the eyes to find small objects on the seabed.”

Kraken Robotics used the same sonar technology last year in the Avro Arrow search in Lake Ontario and the missing ships from the Franklin Expedition.

This is equivalent to finding a special needle in a haystack of needles.— Karl Kenny, Kraken Robotics CEO

These AUVs are capable of operating in water depths from five to 6,000 metres, according to Ocean Infinity CEO Oliver Plunkett in a company statement.

Kenny said only a few companies in the world make this type of sonar system.

“There’s multi-billion dollar defence contractors and then there’s us.”

In 2014, the search for MH370 dominated headlines for months. Malaysia, China and Australia searched an area of 120,000 square kilometres over two years at a cost of about $157 million US.

Yet what happened to MH370 remains a mystery.

Karl Kenny, president and CEO of Kraken Robotics, has secured a $3 million contract to provide sonar technology to the company leading the search to find MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean.(Kraken Robotics)

“We are building upon the previous search team’s efforts. In the past they used only one underwater robot to do the search. In this case we’re using eight,” said Kenny.

Ocean Infinity has dispatched its vessel, Seabed Constructor, from South Africa to the search site where it will begin the search “imminently.”

“Ocean Infinity will focus initially on the zone identified by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau,” said Plunkett.

The search is expected to take 90 days.

Kenny rates the chances of detecting the downed plane as good.

If we do find the aircraft we can bring some closure to the families of the victims who were lost in the crash.— Karl Kenny, Kraken Robotics CEO

“We have the most advanced technological tools available in the world today. There’s nothing better.”

Kenny admits being part of a large technologically advanced search that has garnered worldwide attention is “a real coup.”

But aside from the technical element he said there is an important human element as well.

“If we do find the aircraft we can bring some closure to the families of the victims who were lost in the crash,” Kenny said.


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