December 1, 2007
In the summer of 2007, engineers from WHOI’s Deep Submergence Laboratory proved they could operate an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) beneath Arctic ice. Six months later, the team will now attempt to operate two AUVs simultaneously in deep ocean waters. The first-of-its-kind engineering trial will be the highlight of WHOI’s next Dive and Discover online expedition. For years, scientists have dreamt of sending small fleets of robots to explore the depths, but the ocean presents formidable obstacles to navigating and communicating in the deep. On an 18-day expedition to the South Atlantic aboard the research vessel Knorr, researchers will unleash Puma and Jaguar at the same time; the AUVs will be unpiloted and unattached to the ship. Puma is designed to use sonar, lasers, and chemical sensors to sniff out signals of hot, mineral-rich fluids venting from the ocean floor. A twin AUV, Jaguar, carries cameras and bottom-mapping sonar to collect photographs and bathymetry maps. Both vehicles are designed to hover like a helicopter over the seafloor. As these underwater “cats” prowl a little-explored stretch of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, researchers will test navigation and communication technologies that will enable the AUVs to talk to each other and to scientists aboard Knorr in real time.