Autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) are already both smaller and less expensive than manned submarines. A British consortium has recently taken that concept even further, though, unveiling two "microsubs" that are about one-third the size of most conventional AUVs ... and that small size could actually make them quite useful.
At around 50 cm (19.7 inches) in length, the ecoSUBμ and larger ecoSUBm are simple and compact enough that they can be launched without human help, from robotic surface vessels.
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While they certainly can be utilized individually for applications such as inspecting underwater pipelines, the sensor-equipped microsubs are said to be particularly useful when sent out in groups. Such "shoals" are capable of working together to create high-resolution 3D maps, which are more complete than those created by lone traditional AUVs.
Additionally, when paired with surface vehicles or satellites, microsub shoals can cover larger areas in less time.
The project is being led by submersibles manufacturer Planet Ocean, in collaboration with the National Oceanography Centre, ASV Ltd. and The University of Southampton.
Source: National Oceanography Centre