1999 Projects: New research platforms
MBARI Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (MAUV)
To advance understanding of the oceans, marine science must progress in its capabilities to make systematic, intensive measurements of a broad range of ocean properties over extended periods of time. The development of technology for autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) holds considerable potential for overcoming one of the most challenging obstacles to making such long-term observations: lack of access to vast areas of the marine environment.
Currently MBARIs ships and ROVs are used for routine transects in support of upper ocean biogeochemistry and midwater ecology. Recent progress in the design and fabrication of low-cost AUVs provides an attractive alternative to expensive ship and pilot time for routine sampling when there is little-to-no need for human intervention during the course of the data collection exercise.
While AUVs are currently being used on a limited scale for science-related missions, a variety of factors restricts progress toward producing a vehicle capable of versatile, multi-faceted science missions. MBARI is suited to making contributions in several of these areas, including devising better means of mechanical and electronic interfaces for scientific instruments with the AUV and finding solutions to limitations related to power conservation and data transmission. MBARI has already begun to address the latter challenges, in conjunction with other research on seafloor observatories, by investigating technological options for non-contact power- and data-transfer. These options are potentially applicable to science-capable AUVs.
MBARIs strategy in entering the AUV field is to team with partners who already have much experience in vehicle design, such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The plan is to borrow a working vehicle and concentrate efforts on integrating low-power instruments into the design and developing a variable ballasting capability for vertical positioning.
The goal of this project is to initiate MBARIs entry into AUV technology research by:
Collaborative efforts with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are already underway. Through the National Ocean Partnership Program (NOPP), MIT has secured funding to design and build a long-endurance AUV and has requested assistance from MBARI on development of the vehicle and mission payload. MBARI also will obtain an Odyssey AUV on loan from MIT for experimentation purposes. The outcome of this collaboration will be the first step toward an AUV system with advanced features, which MBARI scientists can use to further oceanographic research.
Perhaps MBARI's most important contribution to the advancement of AUV technology in the 1999-2003 timeframe will be to determine the engineering and operational strategies necessary to support a variety of routine science missions with AUVs on a daily basis at minimal cost. Future efforts will include porting some of the higher task-level control software developed for MBARIs ROVs to AUVs in order to conduct more complex missions.
Last updated: 07 October 2004