AUVs – Drones of the Sea
UAVs remain a hot topic these days as their capabilities grow and researchers continue to find new uses for them. But what about AUVs? The capabilities of Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) are also developing rapidly. While not as hip or controversial as their airborne cousins, AUVs, or Underwater Drones, are becoming widely used for all sorts of tasks including mine detection and neutralization, craft detection/recovery efforts (Flight 370), and weather forecasting.
Equipped with oceanographic sensors, underwater drones can measure the ocean’s conductivity, turbulence, pollutants, dissolved oxygen content and temperature. This type of data provides scientists with valuable information about weather patterns, water quality and health of marine life.
Earlier AUVs were mostly torpedo shaped but now they are beginning to take many different forms as their capabilities evolve. An exciting variant of the AUV is the SAUV…Solar-Powered Autonomous Underwater Vehicle. Endurance matters – whether in the air or in the sea – so researchers are busy designing solar powered water platforms that will be able to complete long endurance missions and provide information such as highly accurate mapping of coastal regions. Several research groups are currently working on SAUV projects, some in conjunction with the United States Office of Naval Research.
But, also like UAVs, the big-budget researchers aren’t the only ones having fun and making things happen. Smaller hobby-class AUVs are springing to life, some with great success – such as the Open ROV submarine developed by the community at openrov.com. While not necessarily autonomous, the Open ROV is constantly changing and will likely be fully autonomous soon. Already, several plans are available on the openrov.com website for different autonomous AUVs.
The sea is vast and largely unexplored. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration sums it up nicely: “The ocean covers 71 percent of the Earth’s surface and contains 97 percent of the planet’s water, yet more than 95 percent of the underwater world remains unexplored.” With new research platforms such as the SAUVs coming online, it will be very interesting to see what new discoveries will soon be made.