While Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) are typically used for scientific studies, they can sometimes be used in more covert applications, such as surveillance. Although some AUVs can travel deep underwater for days, they must come to the surface when it comes time to transmit the collected data to their users because radio waves do not propagate well in water.
A new system helps hide their location by having them deploy a micro-AUV. The micro-AUV was designed by British company ecoSUB Robotics and was experimentally installed on an already installed Solus-LR AUV powered by a hydrogen fuel cell, manufactured by Canadian company Cellula Robotics.
The company announced the completion of various demonstration missions using the hydrogen fuel cell powered AUV. The missions demonstrated the remarkable autonomous launch of a micro-AUV from Solus-LR while submerged and underway.
After launch, the micro-AUV surfaced and transmitted a status message to the Solus-LR command and control center via the Iridium satellite. The operation was the first of its kind and demonstrated near real-time, over-the-horizon communications from a submerged AUV.
Building on a research and development project originally sponsored by DRDC under the All Domains Situational Awareness (ADSA) science and technology (S&T) program that developed Solus-LR, the mission enhanced the capabilities and potential of a long-range hydrogen fuel cell-powered AUV designed for submerged missions over 2,000 km (1,243 miles). The AUV can descend to a depth of 3,000 meters (9,843 ft) and travel at a maximum speed of 2 meters per second.
The micro-AUV can move independently underwater up to several kilometers from Solus-LR before resurfacing. Even though the micro-AUV is visible, which is unlikely to be noticed since it is much smaller than its main vehicle, its position on the surface does not reveal Solus-LR’s current underwater position. It also sinks to the bottom of the sea after transmitting. Thanks to this micro-AUV, autonomous underwater vehicles will now be able to transmit data without surfacing, and the position of the vehicle will not be revealed. Since the location of the underwater vehicle has not been revealed, this technology could be used in future covert missions.