Schmidt Ocean Institute has successfully operated several AUVs including Sentry, Iver, and Sirius.

Schmidt Ocean Institute and R/V Falkor are proud to support advanced and emerging research technologies such as Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs). These robotic, unmanned submarine platforms provide access to areas that may otherwise not be explored and act as force multipliers, allowing one ship to research a greater area than would otherwise be possible. Falkor has hosted numerous AUVs from commercially available systems, to units still in development where modifications are being made aboard the ship between dives. The future will likely see autonomous systems which can perform many research functions without the support of a ship at all. Schmidt Ocean Institute is excited to help bring about these exciting new technologies.

Professor Stefan Williams and Deckhand Erik Suits watch from a zodiac as AUV Sirius is recovered to the aft deck.

What is an AUV?

An Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) is an unmanned underwater robot that is capable of independently completing a pre-programmed mission.

The Sentry autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) is prepared for a test launch in port.

What can an AUV do?

An AUV can work in tandem with other robotic systems to complete oceanographic research missions and provides excellent seafloor mapping and seawater characterization. Unlike ROVs, AUVs can travel without operator input once they are programed at the surface. They can collect a large amount of visual data through photomosaicing, as well as seawater data, depending on the sensors added.

A morning recovery of AUV REMUS on the aft deck of R/V Falkor during the "Unraveling Ancient Sea Level Secrets" research cruise involved the work boat. The Autonomous Underwater Vehicle was set off overnight to gather high resolution mapping over Penguin Bank off Molokai.

What are the advantages and disadvantages to using AUVs instead of ROVs?

AUVs are small, easily portable vehicles. They are self-guiding and self-powered. They are less expensive than an ROV and able to maintain a direct trajectory through the water. AUVs are programmed beforehand and are not tethered to the ship. This allows much more data collection during a cruise, as the ship can focus on other tasks while the AUV is in the water. AUVs speed, mobility, and spatial range is stronger compared to ROVs.

Since ROVs are tethered to the ship, they can draw more power and communicate real-time data. AUVs cannot operate everywhere. They can be influenced by strong currents. They also are less suited for areas that heavily populated due to acoustic interference, collision risk, and entanglement.

Navigation Officer Marissa Judkins leads the recovery of AUV AE200f, after one of its reconnaissance mission.

How long can an AUV be deployed?

AUVs can operate a wide range of times depending on its purpose and payload – Some for a few hours, others over several days. They use different kinds of batteries – some are even solar charged – to power different types of moment or propulsion. Before deployment into the water, they are programmed at the surface and can work independently until the mission is completed.

AUV REMUS will be deployed to gather high resolution aps, which will be used in the second leg of the cruise in order to target specific areas for study and sampling.

How does the information AUVs collect to get back to us?

Once the AUV has returned, the engineers and scientists can directly download the data off the AUV onto the computers aboard the ship. The data is raw and needs processing but can be used as quickly as needed.

How are AUVs recovered?

At the end of the mission, usually the AUV is programmed to surface. The engineers aboard the ship track the AUV to its surfacing position. Then the crew deploys the work boat to collect the AUV and hoist it back on board the research vessel.