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Use of AUVs - Part 1

Updated: May 7, 2021

AUVs in general are the evolution of ROVs, which are submarine vehicles controlled somehow. Thus, AUVs perform activities very similar to them, but needing a smaller support structure and less human interference, which is subject to precision errors. That is why AUVs are used in conjunction with ROVs in cases where this integration between the two types of vehicles is necessary, but in some cases, it has taken the place of ROVs in various support activities, whether in the field of engineering, science and even in their day-to-day at home.

Seabed Mapping

The sea occupies most of the planet, but its depths are, for the most part, unknown. AUVs can be used to clarify the mysteries of the sea, especially from the collection of image, pressure, temperature and location data, which allow mapping not only the geography of submerged areas, but also their activity and the species that inhabit an area.

Mapa do solo marítimo feito pelo AUV Sentry da Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. UFRJ Nautilus
Image: Maritime soil map done by the AUV Sentry of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

This data collection is known as mapping the seabed and is very important for both science and engineering, which increasingly turns to the oceans in search of new wealth.

For the exploration of deep waters and installation of offshore structures it is necessary to have an extensive research of the chosen region, in order to be known the species that inhabit the place and their behavior. This allows understanding about how the activity will affect the balance of the area’s ecosystem and whether it would be better to avoid the location. In deepwater mining, for example, it is necessary to take into account the amount of sound made by the machinery, as it can disturb the present fauna and hinder any communication that may exist between animals of a species.

AUVs can also collect data to monitor the behavior of rising sea levels or even the activity of submarine volcanoes, as they allow the collection of thermal, image and water pH information in an exact location, which benefits the research, already that it is possible to identify nuances between nearby areas, resulting in more accurate data. Thus, they assist in the identification of areas of greatest interest to researchers, who can send a ROV to an exact location for the collection of soil samples and species.

AUVs as weapon armory

Much of the engineering and science in the world had its research and development started during periods of great war tensions or even in effective periods of conflict, such as world war two. Not by coincidence, great technological advances in history took place in those times.

With AUVs it is not different, even though the Offshore industry is the one that invested the most time and money in this equipment, the science and technology departments of major economies in the world have also invested to develop this type of security tool.

Establishing a parallel with a technology more present in the military of different countries, AUVs can act as UAVs (drones) but without the need for an operator and doing the same jobs as the same, but of course, in the ocean environment and not in the air.

In this area, AUVs can act in different ways as well. Whether providing mapping of the seabed of an area of strategic interest, monitoring real-time suspicious underwater structures, such as a foreign submarine,, or even launching projectiles.

Other applications for AUVs

As it is a new and embryonic technology, it is common to associate AUVs with industries that have high intensive capital and are still far from the imagination of most people. Somehow, this is still a reality and it will hardly change in the coming years, especially given the complexity and challenges of this technology.

However, some applications can already be perceived and even accessible to a large part of the population. Given the primary definition of AUV, which would be a submarine that moves autonomously, being able to perform other functions with this or not, there are underwater robots, such as robot vacuum cleaners, suitable for cleaning a swimming pool.

Robô aspirador automático para piscina. UFRJ Nautilus
Robot vacuum cleaner for swimming pool

So, even though AUVs are such a recent technology, we will undoubtedly have an increasing presence in civil society, which will bring great benefits to it.

Written by Pedro Gomes e Mariana Jappour.


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