Focused Research III: Autonomous Underwater Vehicles: Scientific and Industrial Applications

PI: Henrik Schmidt, MIT Sea Grant, James Bellingham, MIT Sea Grant, Thomas Consi, MIT Sea Grant, James Bales, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Project Number:1993-RU-25

Start Date:1993-08-01End Date:1999-07-31

Proposal Summary

Objectives: TO begin the process of transferring newly developed AUV technologies into the field for scientific and industrial applications, and to demonstrate that AUVs can provide economic access to the ocean by employing an existing AUV to carry out well defined missions. The first mission was the rapid response to episodic events on the Juan de Fuca Ridge. The next mission is the use of a small AUV (one of MIT's Odyssey IIb class) as a moving source for carrying out tomographic studies in the Haro Strait. Follow on missions include a long term deployment in the Labrador Sea to study episodic Deep Convection Events.

Methodology: We are coupling scientific and industrial missions with vehicle development, while concurrently pursuing incremental advancements in vehicle capability. The first application under this program is the location and intial characterization of episodic volcanic events on the Juan de Fuca Ridge. This mission was selected because the science need cannot be satisfied in any other way. It is not economically feasible to hold a research vessel capable of deep tow in reverse for rapid response to such events. The second mission is the use of an AUV as a low cost method for implementing moving source tomographic studies which promise to greatly enhance the ability of researchers to probe a volume of water. In addition, we are pursuing three lines of interactions with industry: 1) Development of AUV technologies for an industrial partner (in this case Lockheed Martin); 2) Licensing MIT AUV technology to interested industry partners (negotiations are in progress); and 3) working with industrial partners through SBIRs and sub contracts to drive the development and commercialization by these partners of key pieces of the AUVs and their infrastructure.

Rationale: AUVs can vastly increase human presence in the ocean in an economical manner. Realizing this potential requires 1) demonstrating the utility and economy of AUVs in specific applications, and 2) including the potential users in science and industry in all stages of AUV development and technology transfer, giving them first hand experience with the new technology and allowing them to interact personally with the developers of AUVs. Our AUV operations will address a series of scientific and industrial applications initially in deep water. With the increase in reliability which comes from operation experience, we expect the arena of applications to expand to shallow water.

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