Modem instruments used for ocean research and monitoring are sufficiently small that over seven of the most important parameters can be measured by a package with a volume of less than 5 dm3, weighing perhaps 20 kg Yet, in practice, a research ship of some 2500 t, with fifty people aboard may be supporting that instrument package But change is in sight Developments in underwater robotic technology, in hardware and software, in materials science, navigation, stored energy devices and efficient propulsion and hydrodynamics mean that we are witnessing the start of the era of the robot submarine for undertaking ocean science research and monitoring

The UK Natural Environment Research Council's strategic Autosub project has produced its first vehicle - Autosub-1, capable of undertaking missions down to depths of 300 m over a range of some 70 krn The vehicle uses innovative technology originating in industry (a GPS receiver capable of operating with interrupted signals), in defence establishments (large diameter filament wound glass-fibre pressure vessel), as well as incorporating the fruits of research by the UK science base These technologies are combined with commercial off-the-shelf distributed computing hardware to give a robust, reliable and cost-effective vehicle for ocean science

Tnals of the vehicle in UK coastal waters during 1996 have fully proven the autonomy of the vehicle, its ability to navigate on the surface and when submerged, its ability to dive consistently, and its ability to gather environmental data from a suite of sensors


The Autosub Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) is based on, to borrow a term from the computer industry, scalable architecture The entire design of the vehicle is centred on providing a path from a near-term specification, through a more capable medium term vehicle to the end goal of an AUV capable of undertaking transoceanic remissions profiling from the sea surface to 6000 m The first vehicle, Autosub- 1, has already met the near term specifications, logging 14 hours of fully autonomous trials convening 89 km in waters off the UK south coast in 1996, figure 1 The medium term specifications have already been set by a consortium of scientists and users in the form of a proposal to the Natural Environment Research Council The specifications for further developments will similarly be set by users, building on previous achievements In Table 1 we summarise the key specifications for the present and medium-tern vehicles

The concept of Autosub's scalable architecturecan be illustrated by the following examples

  • a fully distributed command and control system based on a commercial off-the-shelf hardware and software solution (the LonWorks operating system and the Neuron chip processor from Echelon) This system is highly modular, easily expandable and easy to maintain,

  • the man pressure vessel - presently manufactured in thick section filament wound glass-fibre reinforced plastic (GFRP) with a depth rating of 300 m is a prototype for a GFRP vessel capable of operating at 2500 m, and is associated with research work on carbon-fibre reinforced plastic pressure vessels with a target operating depth of 6000 m,

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