Editorial Feature

Automated Underwater Vehicles

An autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), also called as unmanned underwater vehicles, is a robot that performs underwater survey missions such as detection and mapping of obstructions, rocks, submerged wrecks without the need for input from an operator.

The AUV will return to a pre-programmed location when the survey is completed. The collected data can be processed in a similar way as that of the data collected by shipboard systems.

The first AUV was developed in 1957 at the University of Washington. AUVs have been used for limited applications until recently. However, with the development of high yield power supplies and advanced processing capabilities, AUVs are now being used for a wide range of applications including oil and gas industry, research and military.

Design of Automated Underwater Vehicles

The AUV appears like a torpedo in many aspects. It consists of a propulsion system having one or two thrusters, control surfaces that control the movement of the vehicle, a streamlined fairing for reducing hydrodynamic drag and a pressure hull to contain power electronics.

The vehicle carries its own energy source, and is programmed with instructions capable of carrying out underwater mission without assistance from an operator.

The instructions include information required for navigation between pre-determined geographic positions, measures to be undertaken in case of equipment breakdown, procedures for payload device operation and methods to avoid obstacles.

Pre-dive check of the AUV is conducted before starting the underwater mission. The vehicle is submerged into the water and released to start the mission. In some missions, the collected sensor data has to be sent to the operator to ensure that the data is of high quality. In such cases, telecommunications network is provided for this purpose.

The vehicle travels to its pre-determined endpoint at the end of its mission and the data is retrieved from the vehicle.

Advantages of Automated Underwater Vehicles

The key benefits of AUV include the following:

  • Highly stable and agile.
  • Excellent navigational algorithms for providing accurate target location.
  • It has low deployment costs as it does not require bulky and complex support equipment.
  • High reliability and improved data quality.
  • It reduces operational errors and high costs associated in employing a human operator.
  • It follows rough terrain easily with the optimal positioning of sensors.

Products on the Market – Advancements

Hundreds of AUVs of various kinds have been developed so far, but only very few companies launch the vehicles in the market. Some of the products that are commercially available in the market are listed below:

ALISTER 18 - High Resolution & High Coverage AUV

This AUV developed by eca Robotics can be used for a hydrographic survey, rapid environment assessment, mine counter measures and homeland security. It employs Triton Imaging Inc. software for acquiring data and processing subsea images.

The key benefits of ALISTER 18 AUV include the following:

  • Modular design
  • User friendly mission management system
  • Easy deployment of oversea missions.

Ocean Explorer HOV 1000

Developed by Deep Ocean Explorer and Research (DOER), Ocean Explorer HOV 1000 is a small, versatile, next-generation submarine capable of working, sampling and hovering at depths of 1000 m. It is sleek and can be transported in a standard sea container and launched from vessels.


Kingfisher, a product of Clearpath Robotics, is an ultra-portable unmanned surface vessel that features the following:

  • an anti-fouling differential jet propulsion system for optimum speed and control,
  • built-in GPS for precision measurements,
  • waterproof sensor station, semi-planning hulls for minimizing drag during control of the vehicle
  • safety lights for providing visual feedback of the vehicle and payload mounting unit.

Multiple Kingfisher systems can be controlled by a single operator through a rugged mobile operator control station.

The following are the advantages of Kingfisher:

  • Light weight
  • Compact
  • It does not have lengthy set-up procedure.
  • Quiet and maneuverable
  • Improved sensing capabilities
  • Environmental monitoring
  • It is easy to integrate a wide range of payloads.

Bluefin – 21

The Bluefin-21 introduced by Bluefin Robotics is a highly modular AUV that can carry multiple payloads and sensors at the same time. High energy capabilities of this AUV enable it to perform extended operations at greatest depths.

Its design includes battery modules and swappable payload sections for in-field mission reconfiguration. This AUV employs inertial navigation system to provide high quality data at best navigation accuracy. The batteries, vehicle and support systems can be disassembled and packaged into easily transportable sections.

Sources and Further Reading

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