Infographic: The Future of Autonomous Underwater Vehicles

Autonomous underwater vehicles could survey pipelines—or perform military missions

Over the last 10 years, cars and flying drones have dominated the domain of autonomous vehicles. Underwater vehicles have lagged behind, despite the fact that they could open up an enormous amount of untapped potential: After all, humans can drive automobiles and pilot aircraft much more easily than they can visit the depths of the seas. On the civilian side, autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) could perform inspections of pipelines and cables as well as greatly increase our ability to explore the vast submerged territories of our blue planet. On the military side, AUVs could go into shallow coastal waters to perform covert missions in places where crewed submarines would likely be detected.

The development of AUVs has lagged because they face tough challenges unique to the aquatic environment. The first big problem is that water absorbs electromagnetic radiation waves, rendering conventional communication systems useless. This leads to the second big problem: navigation. Radio-based navigation systems such as GPS or radar are out.

Check out the infographic to see how AUVs may overcome these problems in the coming years.