The past two days have been spent working with the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle. On Sunday, the AUV was put in the water but never set free because it was having communications problems. On Wednesday, it was communicating perfectly, but just as it was to be released, the last line holding it to the ship became entangled and The AUV had to be brought back aboard. The afternoon deployment went perfectly. The AUV stayed on track for about two hours. It brought back pictures and video but I haven’t seen them yet.
There are many different kinds of AUVs. The AUV being used on this trip is called the SeaBed from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI). It can be programmed to fly slowly or hover over the seafloor to depths of 6,000 feet. It is used to gather detailed sonar images and pictures of the seafloor.
WHOI's newest vehicle is the Nereus. Nereus is actually a Hybrid Remotely Operated Vehicle (HROV). It can operate autonomously or by remote control. In May of 2009 it explored the depths of the Marina Trench at a depth of almost 7 miles. This was only the third time man has been able to see the deepest spot on Earth.
AUVs are an excellent tool to explore depths not easily accessible to divers. Although they are expensive and sensitive high tech machines, they are not as expensive as Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) and manned submersibles.