Semi-Autonomous Underwater Vehicles

Recent at-sea crashes of jet aircraft and the resulting search for the elusive black boxes ... the hunt for lost nuclear submarines ... the exploration of the Titanic and sunken ships.

The UH SAUV Team

All have made use, to varying degrees, of underwater vehicles, usually manned submersibles or remotely operated vehicles. Use of these vehicles is costly because the operations must be commanded from a ship, with all the accompanying costs and risks of taking a ship to sea. The performance of these vehicles also depends largely on the skill of human operators and such factors as time delays within the man-machine control loop in the hazardous marine environment.

A solution to these shortcomings could be found in semi-autonomous underwater vehicles, which would be pre-programmed to conduct their undersea missions and would also roam free of human operation unless deemed necessary.

This new generation of undersea explorer is being designed by two University of Hawaii research engineers, Junku Yuh and Song Choi, in a project funded by the Office of Naval Research. Their design differs from existing underwater vehicles in two ways: It has a fully functional manipulator (commonly referred to as the "arm") and uses a unique supervisory controller. This controller is capable of communicating with a shore-based station to plan, verify, and change the vehicle and manipulator's operations. The operator, on land, can always intervene if the vehicle strays. However, if the operation is working as planned, the vehicle would carry outs its mission autonomous of human intervention.

The vehicle is expected to be seaworthy by year 2000.

A full description of the project, along with technical specifications, can be found on the project's web site.


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