Publications Articles with Category: History


Early Vehicles from the MIT Sea Grant AUV Lab

May 7, 2011

MIT Sea Grant AUV Lab
Dedicated to the development and application of autonomous underwater vehicles since 1989, MIT Sea Grant’s AUV Lab is a leading developer of advanced unmanned marine robots. Because our vehicles can function without tethers, cables, or remote control, they have a multitude of applications in oceanography, environmental monitoring, and underwater resource studies.

The laboratory also serves as a training ground for graduate and undergraduate students, visiting engineers, and scientists, from around the world, who both learn from and contribute to the Lab’s current research activities.


Exploring the Mid Ocean Ridge and Seamounts with the Autonomous Benthic Explorer, 1995-2008

August 23, 2009
Yoerger D, Bradley A, Walden B, The Autonomous Benthic Explorer (ABE): An AUV Optimized for Deep Seafloor Studies, UUST 2009 Conference, Durham NH, Aug 2009

Since 1994, we have used The Autonomous Benthic Explorer, ABE, for scientific exploration of the Mid-Ocean Ridge and seamounts. ABE has been used on 19 cruises around the world with dives covering over 3600 km of tracklines at an average depth of more than 2000 meters. Notable accomplishments for ABE include the first use of AUVs for seafloor magnetics, the first AUV near bottom bathymetric survey of the Mid-Ocean Ridge, the first systematic discoveries of hydrothermal vent sites by an AUV (Eastern Lau Spreading Center), and the first discoveries of active hydrothermal vent sites by any method on the Southern Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the Southwest Indian Ridge. Other notable surveys include bathymetric surveys of the Lost City hydrothermal site on the Atlantis Massif and the Endeavour segment of the Juan de Fuca Ridge, photo surveys for deep corals on the New England Seamounts and seamounts off Tasmania, and a bathymetric and magnetic survey of Brothers volcano, a seamount on the Kermadec Arc north of New Zealand. In most of these operations, we worked closely with other complementary systems such as the human-occupied submersible Alvin, Jason ROV, the Canadian Ropos ROV, the German Marum and Geomar ROVs, the WHOI Tow Cam, the DSL-120 towed sidescan, tow sleds from China, and the UK Tobi system [Yoerger 2007].


Canadian AUV Development 1979 – 2009

August 23, 2009
Ferguson J, Canadian AUV Development 1979 – 2009, UUST, 23 Aug 2009

16th International Symposium on Unmanned Untethered
Submersible Technology – UUST09
August 23rd -26th 2009
Durham, NH USA

James Ferguson International Submarine Engineering

In Canada, development of the AUV owes its start to Mr. Adam Kerr and Dr. Jim McFarlane. It was Mr. Kerr, the Director of the Canadian Hydrographic Service who said in 1979, “I need Untethered ROVs” and Jim McFarlane of International Submarine Engineering who said “I can make them”. Over the next two years, these gentlemen contributed their time and energy to developing the specifications and the finding the money for what would become Canada’s first AUVs.

The first of these vehicles was known as ARCS or Autonomous and Remote Controlled System. It was to be used in charting the seabed in Lancaster Sound as part of a larger project to allow LNG tankers to access Bridgeport Inlet in the high Canadian Arctic. The aim was to develop a fully autonomous vehicle but to be able to take supervisory command when desired.

The second project was known as Dolphin, a diesel powered semi-submersible vehicle. The purpose of this vehicle was to increase the productivity of larger hydrographic survey vessels. Although it had a radio telemetry link, the aim was to operate this vehicle autonomously as well. The Dolphin prototype was built between 1982 and 1983. It was so successful that the Canadian government purchased 3 more systems in 1984, and the US Navy ordered a further four between 1985-7. The Canadian systems were used for the development of hydrographic vehicles. The American systems were used for early experiments with remote minehunting concepts.

The Arcs prototype was built in 1983. It had a range of 110 kilometers at 4 knots, and an operating depth of 300 meters.. Although never used for its intended hydrographic purposes, it was an excellent R and D platform because of its modular design. In its 19 year life, it made over 800 dives and served as the platform for 37 equipment integrations. By 1997, using an aluminum-oxygen fuel cell, its endurance had increased to 360 km at 4 knots. ARCS was retired in 2003.

At the early UUSTs, we used to speak about “dropping our tether”. At that time, AUVs started out with a tether that allowed the operator to overide, as well as to study what was going on. Most of these were physical, a few were acoustic. A goal of the developer was to drop the tether and get on with AUV operations. After a few months of trials “on the tether”, we were persuaded by the terms of our contract to “drop the tether”. This worked better than we thought it would at the time  and heralded the start of AUVs in Canada.

Now and then, our vehicle would not finish its mission at the location we had (or thought we had) specified, and we had to go and look for it. Generally speaking, the fault was ours, the vehicle had done exactly what we had told it to do. In 1989, the Hydrographic Service development programs were transferred to the Department of National Defence.

The ARCS was used as a half scale model of a larger AUV which the Navy wished to develop for Arctic operations. Sub-system development for this vehicle started in the early 1990’s. At the same time, ISE developed a number of small AUVs for universities. Amongst these were the PURL AUVs used by Simon Fraser University and the Sea Squirt AUV developed for Dr. Jim Bellingham at MIT.

Development of the 9 ton Theseus vehicle commenced in 1994. The signature project of the nineties was Theseus. Developed as part of the US-Canada Spinnaker program, Theseus was a large AUV developed to lay fibre-optic cable on the arctic seabed. The vehicle was built between 1993 and 1994. In 1995, it was tested in southern waters and then under the ice from Alert, Nunavut. A series of under-ice missions were conducted in 1996. At the time, Theseus was the largest AUV built. With its installed battery, it had a range of over 800 km. If the full space available for battery were to have been used, the theoretical range of the vehicle was 1400 km. On the arctic missions, Theseus completed a number of 60 hour under-ice transits that were in excess of 360 km length, a record that holds today. Navigational accuracy of the vehicle on average was 0.4% of the distance travelled. The vehicle has a depth rating of 2000 meters. Theseus was the first AUV to lay fibre-optic cable in the seabed. It is currently owned by DRDC and stored at ISE’s Vancouver premises.

The ISE Dolphin was used to further research in the area of minehunting and by 1996, a prototype minehunting vehicle was built. In the same timeframe, four Dolphin vehicles were sold to the US Navy. Two of these were used for tactical oceanography while the other two were the subject of a development program called Remote Minehunting. They became the RMS (V1) and then subsequently (V2) AUVs. The strong success of these vehicles in a minehunting application provided the incentive for the current US RMS program. In the same timeframe, Canada’s minehunting program continued with a successful introduction of the system into service with the Canadian Navy.

We have also applied the design to a seismic tow platform working with the CGG of France. The ISE Dolphin was used to further research in the area of minehunting and by 1996, a prototype minehunting vehicle was built. In the same timeframe, four Dolphin vehicles were sold to the US Navy. Two of these were used for tactical oceanography while the other two were the subject of a development program called Remote Minehunting. They became the RMS (V1) and then subsequently (V2) AUVs. The strong success of these vehicles in a minehunting application provided the incentive for the current US RMS program. In the same timeframe, Canada’s minehunting program continued with a successful introduction of the system into service with the Canadian Navy. We have also applied the design to a seismic tow platform working with the CGG of France.

In the late ‘90s, the ocean industry began to procure AUVs on a commercial basis. At this point, ISE updated the design of the ARCS AUV, initially targeting sales within the marine science sector.

Most of the 450 AUVs that have been built to date are cruising vehicles that are optimized for survey operations. Recently, the need has developed for vehicles that have better maneuvering capabilities. Many companies are now responding to this need. In Canada, Marport of St. Johns is developing a lightweight (<100 kg) 500 meter depth seabed inspection AUV in partnership with the National Research Council. ISE is under contract with Cybernetix SA of Marseille and the French oil company Total to develop a hybrid AUV that will transport a work class ROV to satellites where it will dock and provide power for the ROV.

A number of AUVs have been developed at Canadian universities. These include the Memorial University of Newfoundland C-Scout (1999-2001) and the University of Victoria AUVic (2004-2008). Some development has also been undertaken by the University of Alberta and the University of McGill in Montreal. In addition, Canadian institutions have acquired AUVs for research. Memorial University operates an ISE Explorer 3000 meter depth AUV from the Marine Institute in Holyrood while both the University of BC and the National Research Council operate 200 meter depth Gavia AUVs. Finally, the University of Victoria is to receive a Bluefin 12 AUV while the Geological Survey of Canada is shortly to take delivery of 2 ISE Explorer 5000 meter depth AUVs.

As the 3rd decade of ISE’s AUV development closes, we are heading back to the Arctic with Memorial University, the Canadian Defence Research establishment and the Geological Survey of Canada. This will be in support of Canada’s submission under Article 76 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. We expect to undertake a series of missions in 2010 and 2011 to support other survey work above 80 degrees North latitude. Missions of up to 450 km will be undertaken to depths of 4500 meters. A new challenge that has arisen as a result of global warming will be to deal with moving icefloes over the 80 hour mission. In preparation for this work, trials were held north of Alert in 2009 to define some of the parameters that will affect the 2010 and 2011 missions.

We believe that the move towards unsupervised missions with AUVs will result in a trend towards the use of larger AUVs as they will have to be capable of both transit to and from the operating area as well as the operation itself. Secondly, as they will be recovered more and more in the harbour rather than from a ship at sea, sized will cease to be as much a concern. Putting this together we believe that requirements for much longer range AUVs will evolve over the next few years. There is a possibility that these will be hybrids.

We also see the introduction of the intervention vehicle in all three sectors of the subsea industry. With these systems, there should need to be development in the area of vision systems and tools that AUVs can use. In addition to this, the expanding use of the AUV in the existing areas of the subsea industry and its introduction into new areas such as ocean mining are likely to create new demands on sensor, actuator and vehicle technology.


Continuous Development of Autonomous Underwater Vehicles – A long way to Mid-Ocean Ridge Systems

August 19, 2007
Ura, Tamaki, Continuous Development of Autonomous Underwater Vehicles – A long way to Mid-Ocean ridge Systems, UUST 2007, 19 Aug 2007

The first period of AUV development in the world started in the 1970s, and some ocean going AUVs were constructed in order to demonstrate the new technology and the potential of AUVs. It was encouraging, that “Epaulard” of CNEXO (IFREMER) was capable of deep sea floor exploration at such an early stage of AUV development.

Some years later in 1984, a program of AUV R&D was initiated at the University of Tokyo in which to date, more than ten kinds of AUV have been constructed. The final goal of the program is to frequently survey mid-ocean ridge systems using many AUVs. Our first project was the “PTEROA Project”, in which the AUV “PTEROA 150” was constructed as our first ocean going AUV. Following the “PTEROA Project”, we started the “R-One Project” in 1990, and the “R-Two Project” in 2001. The newest AUV “r2D4” was completed in July 2003 as part of the project, and carried out dives to fault lines in the Sea of Japan (in 2003, a maximum dive depth of 502m), Kuroshima Knoll (2003, 663m), NW Rota 1 Underwater Volcano (2004, 1,400m), and Myojin-sho Caldera (2005, 1,057m). Although these places are very attractive for scientists and engineers, they are, unfortunately, not mid-ocean ridge systems.

In December, 2006, 22 years after starting our R&D of AUVs, we succeeded in operating “r2D4” along the rift valley of the Central Indian Mid-Ocean Ridge System. The AUV “r2D4” surveyed the Roger Plateau (2,701m) and the Great Dodo Lava Plain (2,701m), took beautiful high resolution images of the sea bottom using its side scanning Sonar and interferometry Sonar, and found a significant anomaly in Mn concentration and turbidity at the Beak Rocks.

In order to identify small features in subsequent visits, we named some specific rocks, mounds, peaks and valleys. We hope that these names attract the attention of engineers and scientists.

In this paper, the long journey to the ridge system and mile stones to our final goal are presented.


Autonomous Underwater Vehicles

May 24, 2003
Christopher von Alt, Autonomous Underwater Vehicles, Offshore Technology Conference, May 2003

An Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) is a robotic device that is driven through the water by a propulsion system, controlled and piloted by an onboard computer, and maneuverable in three dimensions. This level of control, under most environmental conditions, permits the vehicle to follow precise preprogrammed trajectories wherever and whenever required. Sensors on board the AUV sample the ocean as the AUV moves through it, providing the ability to make both spatial and time series measurements. Sensor data collected by an AUV is automatically geospatially and temporally referenced and normally of superior quality. Multiple vehicle surveys increase productivity, can insure adequate temporal and spatial sampling, and provide a means of investigating the coherence of the ocean in time and space.

The fact that an AUV is normally moving does not prevent it from also serving as a Lagrangian, or quasi Eulerian, platform. This mode of operation may be achieved by programming the vehicle to stop thrusting and float passively at a specific depth or density layer in the sea, or to actively loiter near a desired location. AUV’s may also be programmed to swim at a constant pressure or altitude or to vary their depth and/or heading as they move through the water, so that undulating sea saw survey patterns covering both vertical and/or horizontal swaths may be formed. AUV’s are also well suited to perform long linear transects, sea sawing through the water as they go, or traveling at a constant pressure. They also provide a highly productive means of performing seafloor surveys using acoustic or optical imaging systems.

When compared to other Lagrangian platforms, AUV’s become the tools of choice as the need for control and sensor power increases. The AUV’s advantage in this area is achieved at the expense of endurance, which for an AUV is typically on the order of 8- 50 hours. Most vehicles can vary their velocity between 0.5 and 2.5 m/s. The optimum speed and the corresponding greatest range of the vehicle occur when its hotel load (all required power except propulsion) is twice the propulsive load. For most vehicles, this occurs at a velocity near 1.5 m/s.

The degree of autonomy of the robot presents an interesting dichotomy. Total autonomy does not provide the user with any feedback on the vehicle’s progress or health, nor does it provide a means of controlling or redirecting the vehicle during a mission. It does, however, free the user to perform other tasks, thereby greatly reducing operational costs, as long as the vehicle and the operator meet at their duly appointed times at the end of the mission. For some missions, total autonomy may be the only choice; in other cases when the vehicle is performing a routine mission, it may be the preferable mode of operation.

Bidirectional acoustic, radio frequency, and satellite based communications systems offer the capability to monitor and redirect AUV missions worldwide from a ship or from land. For this reason, semi-autonomous operations offer distinct advantages over fully autonomous operations.


AUV’S – The Maturity of the Technology

May 31, 2000
Wernli R, AUV’S – The Maturity of the Technology, SPAWAR, May 2000

The development of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), and their introduction into the military and offshore markets, has been a slow and costly process. This paper will provide an overview of those using and developing AUVs, discuss the state-of-the-art, and provide a projection on where the technology is heading and the hurdles it must overcome to reach maturity.


Design and Control of Autonomous Underwater Robots: A Survey

January 31, 2000

Abstract. During the 1990s, numerous worldwide research and development activities have occurred in underwater robotics, especially in the area of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs). As the ocean attracts great attention on environmental issues and resources as well as scientific and military tasks, the need for and use of underwater robotic systems has become more apparent. Great efforts have been made in developing AUVs to overcome challenging scientific and engineering problems caused by the unstructured and hazardous ocean environment. In the 1990s, about 30 newAUVs have been builtworldwide.With the development of newmaterials, advanced computing and sensory technology, as well as theoretical advancements, R&Dactivities in theAUVcommunity have increased. However, this is just the beginning for more advanced, yet practical and reliableAUVs. This paper surveys some key areas in current state-of-the-art underwater robotic technologies. It is by no means a complete survey but provides key references for future development. The new millennium will bring advancements in technology that will enable the development of more practical, reliable AUVs.

Keywords: underwater robots, autonomous underwater vehicles, underwater navigation and control


DARPA’S Autonomous Minehunting and Mapping Technologies (AMMT) Program An Overview

September 23, 1996
Paglia J, Wyman W, DARPA’S Autonomous Minehunting and Mapping Technologies (AMMT) Program An Overview, IEEE/MTS Oceans 96, Sept 23, 1996

Abstract – The C. S. Draper Laboratory, Inc. (Draper) recently completed the at-sea test phase of the Autonomous Minehunting and Mapping Technologies (AMMT) Program for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The primary objective of this program is to develop and demonstrate advanced minehunting technologies that will enable Unmanned Undersea Vehicles (UUVs) to clandestinely survey an undersea area for mines and collect data for post mission mapping of the surveyed area. The survey data must be of  sufficient quality to support selection of an amphibious operating area and subsequent neutralization of mine or obstacle threats.

As integration contractor for the AMMT Program, Draper modified one of DARPA’s existing UUVs; which was previously designed and built by Draper, and used for DARPA’s Mine Search System Program. State-of-the-art technologies in the areas of Sonar Mapping, Navigation, Acoustic Communications, Imaging, and Mission Planning were incorporated into the AMMT vehicle, resulting in a system having the capability to perform an autonomous survey and meet program objectives. The vehicle was subsequently tested at-sea to demonstrate the advanced minehunting technologies and concepts.

This paper provides an overview of the AMMT Program and describes the development and integration of the technologies required


Submersibles and Marine Technologies In Russia’s Far East and Siberia

August 31, 1996
Mooney B, Ali H, Blidberg R, Dehaemer M, Gentry L, Moniz J, Walsh D, Submersibles and Marine Technologies In Russia’s Far East and Siberia, WTEC, Aug 1996

This report is a review of research submersible vehicles and other marine technologies in Siberia and the Russian Far East. It complements a 1994 WTEC report covering submersible technologies in Ukraine and European Russia. The panel found that two institutions in Vladivostok have extensive developments and experience in operating remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs). In particular, two prototype AUVs developed by the Institute for Marine Technology Problems (EVITP) are rated at 6000 meters operating depth, one of which has logged 160 working dive missions greater than 4000 meters. The WTEC panelists concluded that MTP had more AUV operating experience than all U.S. programs combined. The panel also visited several centers of excellence in the Novosibirsk area, including the Institute of Thermodynamics and Applied Mechanics, which is world-class facility for research on aerodynamics, including eight wind tunnels achieving air speeds up to Mach 25. Other institutes the panel visited are doing research in computer software development, marine biology and bioorganic chemistry, physics, and energy research. The panel sensed a new commitment to openness about R&D work being done in the institutes it visited, and found that several institutes already have developed extensive international relationships. However, the panel also perceived that many of these institutes are in a state of crisis, with declining government funding and mixed results in efforts to spin off profit-making enterprises. Some research institutes have expired and more will cease to exist because of the lack of basic funding by the government


The Autonomous Benthic Explorer (ABE): An AUV Optimized for Deep Seafloor Studies

September 1, 1991
Yoerger D, Bradley A, Walden B, The Autonomous Benthic Explorer (ABE): An AUV Optimized for Deep Seafloor Studies, Proceedings of the 7th UUST Conference, Durham NH 1 Sept 1991

The Autonomous Benthic Explorer (ABE) is a vehicle that will perform scientific survey of the seafloor over an extended period of time without a support vessel. The vehicle has been designed to complement the existing manned submersible and remotely operated vehicle systems available to the scientific community, A primary application of ABE will be repeated surveys of hydrothermal vent areas at depths of 4000 meters. Specifically, ABE will be able to provide data concerning the longterm variability of hydrothermal vents, a task that existing assets cannot accomplish. This paper discusses the motivation for ABE, outlines the specifications and basic design approach,and describes critical technical problems. Initial and future ABE mission scenarios are also discussed.


The Slocum Mission

December 31, 1989
Stommel, Henry, The Slocum Mission,

It is difficult to realize that twenty-five years have passed since I first came to the Slocum Mission Control Center on Nonamesset Island, one of the Elizabeth Islands, in 1996. I was a post-doc in physical oceanography, and the Department of the Environment had just acquired the island from the descendants of a sea captain prominent in the China trade of the early nineteenth century. The government acquired Nonamesset to establish the World Ocean Observing System [WOOS], a facility capable of monitoring the global ocean, using a fleet of small neutrally-buoyant floats called Slocums that draw their power from the temperature stratification of the ocean. Nonamesset Island was chosen partly because it is isolated from the mainland of Cape Cod, but mostly because it is close to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the Marine Biological Laboratory. and a thriving scientific community.


The New Generation of Brainy Robot Subs

December 31, 1983
Peter Britton, The New Generation of Brainy Robot Subs, Popular Science, December 1983

They ‘re called “ROVs” – remotely operated vehicles with no pilots. Their mission: exploration and salvage in the Earth’s most inhospitable environment – the ocean floor. Many present-generation ROVs require no physical link to the surface. In some, the only link is an acoustic data stream to operators above who control the movements of the vehicle, though ROVs can follow predetermined paths without direction. Future robot subs will be completely on their own, using advanced programs that give them capabilities akin to human judgement. Prototypes are emerging, but there are many problems yet to be solved.