Autosub-1: An autonomous underwater vehicle for ocean science


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Gwyn Griffiths
Southampton Oceanography Centre, U.K.

Friday, June 12, 1998
12:00 Noon—Pacific Forum

Our oceans are vastly undersampled. While space satellites observe the ocean’s surface and numerical simulation models produce impressive graphics, most of our knowledge of the ocean interior is still gained through observations taken by ships. Robotic, autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) gathering routine and experimental data from the oceans has been a dream for over a decade. Before practical vehicles could be taken to sea, a number of technical advances were necessary, covering a broad range of engineering disciplines, including:

Navigation—reliable Global Positioning System (GPS) during wave wash-over on the surface and dead-reckoning sub-surface
Materials—providing a lightweight pressure vessel to maximize battery capacity, with a solution using composites rather than metals
Reliable software to enable autonomous operation in the total absence of communication; efficiency in propulsion to maximize range and duration

The Autosub-1 AUV, constructed between April 1995 and April 1996, is a 6.8 m long, 0.9 m diameter vehicle capable of diving to 500 m with a 200 km range. The talk will discuss the technology used in Autosub-1 and some of the results from the trials to date to illustrate the methods of navigating the vehicle and its capability to carry out ocean science. The talk will conclude with a view to the future, including the three-year, $4 million Autosub Science Missions’ Thematic Programme, sponsored by the U.K. Natural Environment Research Council, as well as some of the engineering problems we have yet to face.

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