Artist rendering of an underwater AV with robotic arms. Illustration: DARPA

Partially autonomous and remotely operated underwater vehicles are used to map oceans, observe sea life and pollution, clear underwater unexploded ordinance, and monitor oil and gas pipelines — jobs that are dangerous or impossible for divers.

What's next: Advanced communication technology, better batteries, and other breakthroughs could result in vehicles with more autonomy, capable of more complex missions.

Where it stands: Unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) are already equipped with state-of-the-art sonar, cameras, and laser equipment and can deploy for up to 24 hours. Freed from road rules that constrain AVs, UUVs can more easily operate with high levels of autonomy.

  • The biggest limitations to UUV missions are technological shortcomings, like limited battery life, and communications problems if remote-operated UUVs go out of range.

What's new: Academic researchers, manufacturers and militaries are trying to push UUV technology forward.

  • Some researchers are designing systems that could stay underwater for up to 9 months. Longer deployments will require more efficient battery technology and ways to supply power for underwater recharging of UUVs.
  • Increasing the amount of pressure UUVs can handle is another goal, so they could descend to depths of 6,000 meters. (Human divers can handle 80 meters, at most, and current UUV systems can reach 3,000 meters.)
  • ATLAS, Kongsberg, and Saab are working specifically on increasing the efficiency of mine neutralization and disposal technology. In the Baltic Sea alone, there are an estimated 50,000 mines that need disposal, which make it dangerous to build new underwater pipelines or establish new ferry routes.
  • DARPA recently put out a call for an underwater AV developer for seabed-level work.

The bottom line: For UUVs to take on longer and more complex missions, underwater power transfers will have be simplified and systems made more reliable. But their advances, from AI and self-learning algorithms to battery technology, could offer a valuable model for developers of other kinds of AVs.

Robin Elliott is a program manager at Saab Seaeye, which develops underwater robotic systems. He is also a member of GLG, a platform connecting businesses with industry experts.

Go deeper

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
Updated 45 mins ago - Economy & Business

Winter coronavirus threat spurs new surge of startup activity

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

U.S. coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are surging, with cold weather arriving before even the best-case scenario for a widely distributed vaccine. Now we're also beginning to see an increase in coronavirus-related startup funding, focused on both testing and pharma.

Driving the news: Gauss, a Silicon Valley computer vision startup focused on health care, tells Axios that it's raised $10 million to accelerate development and commercialization of an at-home rapid antigen test for COVID-19.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Politics: Axios-Ipsos poll: Federal response has only gotten worse — The swing states where the pandemic is raging.
  2. Health: The coronavirus is starting to crush some hospitals — 13 states set single-day case records last week.
  3. Business: Winter coronavirus threat spurs new surge of startup activity.
  4. Media: Pandemic causes cable and satellite TV providers to lose the most subscribers ever.
  5. States: Nearly two dozen Minnesota COVID cases traced to 3 Trump campaign events.
  6. World: Unrest in Italy as restrictions grow across Europe.

Ted Cruz defends GOP's expected return to prioritizing national debt

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) told "Axios on HBO" on Monday that he wishes reining in the national debt was a higher priority for President Trump.

Why it matters: Trump pledged during the 2016 campaign to reduce the national debt and eliminate it entirely within eight years, though he also deemed himself "the king of debt" and said there were some priorities that required spending. In the fiscal year that ended in September, the deficit reached a record $3.1 trillion.