Skip to content

Commercial licensing expands access to innovative MBARI technology

An MBARI engineer in an orange life vest, dark navy shirt, and brown pants wearing glasses and a white hard hat inspects an orange-and-yellow-colored, torpedo-shaped, autonomous robot. The engineer is holding a yellow control switch for an overhead crane. The robot is suspended from two yellow nylon straps. A large test tank is visible in the background.
MBARI engineers have invested a decade in research and development for the long-range autonomous underwater vehicle (LRAUV). A new commercial licensing agreement with Saab, Inc. will expand access to this versatile platform for ocean exploration. Image: © 2022 MBARI

Commercial licensing expands access to innovative MBARI technology

The ocean is critical to life on Earth, but faces a fragile future and a rising tide of threats. Monitoring ocean health is increasingly urgent, but logistically challenging. Scientists need nimble research tools that can scale our observations of the ocean and its inhabitants. Autonomous robots are essential to the future of marine science, engineering, and exploration. 

An orange-and-yellow-colored, torpedo-shaped, autonomous robot deployed in the ocean. The robot is at the ocean’s surface, with two orange fins and a black propeller sticking out of the water. Rippled blue ocean is visible in the background.
MBARI’s LRAUV is an innovative, field-ready autonomous robot. With a range of more than 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) and several weeks of endurance, it is well-suited for ocean exploration. Image: © 2010 MBARI

The MBARI long-range autonomous vehicle (LRAUV) is an innovative robot developed by MBARI engineers to meet the growing demand for technology that can safely and efficiently explore, map, and monitor ocean health. After a decade of extensive testing at sea by MBARI researchers, the LRAUV is now available to a global market for the first time, thanks to a commercial licensing agreement with Saab, Inc. The MBARI LRAUV will be available commercially as the Saab Tethys.

The MBARI LRAUV is an innovative, field-ready autonomous robot that can be launched from a ship or from shore. An ultra-low power transit mode enables shore-based operations with a range of more than 1,000 kilometers (620 miles). The MBARI team developed this technology as a scalable solution to ocean-based data collection.

“MBARI is one of the few places where a team of engineers and scientists can work together, for more than 10 years, to develop a completely new ocean robot from the ground up. We’re thrilled to now have help from Saab, Inc. to manufacture this unique platform for our peers in ocean science and adapt it for many new applications,” said MBARI Senior Mechanical Engineer Brett Hobson, who leads the LRAUV Team.

An MBARI summer intern with long brown hair wearing a blue shirt adjusting fins on an orange-and-yellow-colored, torpedo-shaped, autonomous robot. Various lab equipment is visible in the background.
MBARI has invested more than a decade in research and development for the LRAUV. This innovative robot is a vital tool for MBARI’s work. Image: Todd Walsh © 2012 MBARI

MBARI’s fleet of 10 LRAUVs has more than 40,000 hours of sea time, including operations with most of the standard AUV payloads, as well as MBARI’s custom payloads that include environmental DNA (eDNA) sampling, plankton imaging, scientific echosounders, and more. This robust platform has demonstrated some remarkable mission capabilities, from sampling the genetic fingerprints of marine life to monitoring harmful algal blooms in the Great Lakes to detecting and mapping oil spills

“MBARI engineering is working hard to create capabilities for autonomous and extended monitoring and exploration of the ocean. Partnering with Saab, Inc., MBARI’s unique technology for studying the ocean will be widely available to our peers, allowing the global scientific community to scale efforts to understand our changing ocean,” said MBARI Engineering Division Chair Andrew Hamilton.

Under its Autonomous and Undersea Systems Division, Saab will transition the MBARI LRAUV to commercial production offering this product for global sales for the oceanographic research, commercial, and military markets. 

“Saab’s legacy as a world-class manufacturer of underwater systems puts us in a strong position to produce and market the Tethys,” said Erik Smith, President and CEO of Saab in the U.S. “This is truly a unique vehicle, with industry-leading persistence and endurance. Saab is looking forward to working alongside the team at MBARI in this new venture.” 

Two MBARI engineers in black wetsuits recover an orange-and-yellow-colored, torpedo-shaped, autonomous robot using a black cart with large, gray wheels on the wet, sandy beach with a rocky jetty in the background.
The MBARI LRAUV is a versatile science platform that can be deployed and recovered from a ship or from shore. Image: Todd Walsh © 2022 MBARI

About two meters (6.6 feet) long, 30 centimeters (12 inches) in diameter, and weighing 110 kilograms (242.5 pounds), the LRAUV is easy for small teams to operate anywhere in the world. The LRAUV’s unique low-power transit mode and over-the-horizon, internet-based remote control allow users to launch the vehicles from shore and conduct sophisticated missions at remote locations, without a ship. The LRAUV offers more than 40,000 operational hours offshore and can dive to depths as great as 1,500 meters (4,900 feet). 

It is capable of larger, more powerful payloads and can operate in higher currents than oceanographic buoyancy-driven gliders. The LRAUV can be outfitted with a variety of payloads, including microbial sampling, bioluminescence, active bio-acoustic imaging, water sampling, plankton imaging, and multibeam mapping.

Understanding the ocean’s complex physical and biological processes requires robust observing systems. MBARI engineers envision a future where robotic platforms can monitor ocean health 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Licensing the LRAUV technology to Saab, Inc. for commercial production brings us closer to this vision for an autonomous future for ocean exploration.

“The ocean is at a critical crossroads and we urgently need to grow our ability to autonomously collect physical, chemical, and biological data about the largest living space on our planet,” said MBARI President and CEO Chris Scholin. “Our partnership with Saab, Inc. will make MBARI’s marine technology broadly accessible and offer an important pathway to quickly scale global ocean observing efforts.”

Saab and MBARI are jointly exhibiting the MBARI LRAUV at the OCEANS 2023 Gulf Coast Conference in Biloxi, Mississippi, from September 25 to 28, 2023.

For additional information or images relating to this news story, please email