Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
Deployment methods

The mapping autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) has been deployed so far from four ships using four different methods.

The AUV is usually deployed over the side or stern of the ship using the launch and recovery system (LARS). MBARI AUV technicians download the mission script onto the AUV while it floats at the ocean surface. They then check to make sure that all of the systems and instruments are fully functional.

The AUV receives a command to dive below the ocean floor. The vehicle will sometimes be launched in waters deeper than 130 meters. When this occurs, the global positioning system (GPS) and the doppler velocity log (DVL) do not simultaneously start working.

So the inertial navigation system for the AUV has to be aided using an ultra-short baseline tracking instrument, instead using GPS and DVL. Since the AUV is already programmed with its mission objective, it is usually not tracked, which means the research vessel can conduct other tasks or go back to dock and recover the AUV at a later time period. 1

R/V Zephyr and launch cradle (legacy)

Routine Recovery of Autonomous underwater vehicle

We have a good idea of the AUV’s location throughout the night, and can forecast its position to recover the vehicle. If the mission has terminated early due to a problem, we are able to predict an intercept position by plotting the drift of the AUV. 2

Upon arrival at the pickup location, the captain extends the launch and recovery system until it’s about a meter off the surface, and positions the Zephyr so that the AUV is just off the port stern. The ship’s engineer mans the capture pole, and hooks the line into a latch on the AUV’s nose. 2

We pull in the line and position the Zephyr so that the nose of the AUV nests into the LARS nose capture cushion, then pull hard to bring the rolling assembly all the way forward.

AUV Day of Operations





AUV being deployed off the research vessel Zephyr
AUV being deployed from the launch and recovery system off the research vessel Zephyr.
© MBARI 2010

R/V Point Lobos, attached under the ROV Ventana

In an unusual test arrangement, MBARI's remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Ventana has been carrying an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) during a series of recent dives in Monterey Canyon. These dives are designed to test a new multibeam sonar mounted inside the AUV. Multibeam sonar is used to create very precise depth maps of the seafloor.

This "piggy-back" arrangement also lets researchers run the sonar within about 10 meters of the sea bottom, in order to create very detailed sea-bottom maps. The AUV alone cannot be used for such close work because it might collide with the steep canyon walls.

Note: The AUV was initially tested on the ROV, but this has not been done again for several years.

AUV and Ventana
The mapping AUV mounted under the ROV Ventana.  
© MBARI 2004

R/V Western Flyer, with ship's crane

The AUV is launched off from the Western Flyer using the ship's crane. The crane only has one bare hook, which means that crew members need assistance to hook the AUV. A small boat from the Western Flyer goes out to hook the AUV into the crane, so that the AUV can be deployed.

Flyer recovery
AUV being recovered by the Western Flyer.
© MBARI 2006

R/V Thomas Thompson, with a borrowed crane

The AUV was launched off the Thomas Thompson using a borrowed crane. Its head could latch to the AUV, which meant that no small boat ops were necessary.

Thompson launch
AUV being launched over the side of the Thompson.
© MBARI 2006


1 Thompson, D.R.; , "AUV Operations at MBARI," OCEANS 2007 , vol., no., pp.1-6, Sept. 29 2007-Oct. 4 2007 doi: 10.1109/OCEANS.2007.4449212 URL:

2 Paduan, J.B., Caress, D.W., Clague, D.A., Paull, C.K., Thomas, H., “High-Resolution mapping of mass wasting, tectonic, and volcanic hazards using the MBARI Mapping AUV”, International conference on seafloor mapping for geohazard assessment, Forio d’Ischia, Italy, May 11-13, 2009.

3 "ROV Ventana carries an AUV into Monterey Canyon" by Kim Fulton-Bennett.

Last updated: Nov. 20, 2012