The modern navy is regularly working on updating its equipment, its outreach, its maneuverability. One of the ways in which it accomplishes these goals is through the employment of drones, autonomous machines fulfilling important defensive and militaristic tasks. AUV’s, or autonomous underwater vehicles (sometimes alternatively known as unmanned underwater vehicles — UUV’s), comprise one department in which such drone tech is seeing action.
According to Marine Insight, such aquatic automatons were being made as early as 1957. They can range in size anywhere from 0.91 meters (approximately 3 feet) to over 10 meters (over 32 feet) long. With these varying dimensions consequently come varying speeds and depths at which it is safe for the crafts to maneuver. The AUV’s run on a computer system typically controlled on the ship from which it launched. Incorporated into their mechanisms are compasses and sonar for directional guidance.
Currently, the United States represents the biggest buyer of AUV’s in North America. According to a recent from Prodour regarding the AUV market, it is predicted that the demand for these specialized machines shall increase with navies and other government defenses likely becoming some of the chief consumers of this tech.
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For example, in 2018, the U.S. Navy began running with a contract (with several hundred million dollars invested in it) for the design and construction of UUV’s. Among the nearly two dozen companies which got a shot at developing UUV’s for the Navy were Lockheed Martin, Oceaneering, and Raytheon. Also frequently following and involved in a number of Mars mission developments, Lockheed Martin had one of its divisions invest in Ocean Aero, a company which specializes in AUV’s.
Despite all the attention these vessels are receiving in the realm of their military use, they do serve other purposes as well. One task UUV’s seem particularly astute at is mapping out underwater terrain. As one might imagine, this can make their services quite helpful in reconnaissance missions, both for military strategies and other intel familiarity. These often compact submarines have also found use in commercial enterprises — as in examining a certain spot for potential oil drilling.
These remote-controlled UUV’s have significant potential in the oceanographic sciences. Other robots are being dropped below the waves of the sea for the purpose of examining and even taking live specimens of rare marine lifeforms. Relatively small autonomous subs should be able to complete similar tasks.
The AUV’s are particularly helpful in research since they can go somewhere, take samples, and return all in a timelier fashion than it would have taken a science team. Some specific focuses scientists are using them for include the monitoring of reefs and paying close attention to the habitat and organisms based near the seafloor.
AUV’s have already been proven in this field. In recent years, in an attempt to dig deeper into the understanding of leatherback sea turtles’ instincts and habits, an AUV was effectively used for tracking turtles. The turtles were tagged. And the sub was programmed to track their whereabouts, pursuing them and recording crucial video footage of their behavior via several HD cameras attached to the AUV. Kara Dodge, who was on the project along with a number of peers, stated: “Our study demonstrates that an AUV can successfully track and image leatherback sea turtles feeding in a coastal environment, resulting in new observations of three-dimensional subsurface behaviors and habitat use.”
Autonomous underwater vehicles pose potential threats — and simultaneous assistance — in the military realm. Potentially, they could serve in the capacity of defining safe and unsafe locales for underwater drilling. And their usefulness has already been seen in the sciences. Their adequacies are far-reaching, almost as vast as the sea itself.