Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs), which are available for scientific, commercial or military purposes, are unmanned mobile underwater vehicles that perform pre-programmed missions. A so called mission file enables the AUV control computer to navigate underwater to given waypoints and diving depths. AUVs travel autonomously and collect scientific data during their mission. Depending on battery capacity and scientific objectives, such missions may last several hours up to a few days. Ultimately, the vehicle will be recovered by a surface vessel at a given location.


The independent mode of operation enable AUVs to work in oceanic regions that otherwise would be inaccessible or only accessible with unreasonable efforts. One of the most interesting approaches for the AWI is the use of AUVs under ice, especially under the huge floating shelf ices in Antarctica. Therefore, it is of special importance that all system components of the underwater vehicle work properly, because there would be no chance to recover an AUV which gets in trouble under shelf ice of several hundred metres thickness.


Depending on size and shape, an AUV can carry a variety of different sensors including sonar systems. Multibeam sonar data gathered with AUVs are generally good in quality because underwater vehicles are quite stable platforms with little roll and pitch, if compared to ships.


Our aim is the user-oriented development of payload modules, in which complementary measuring systems are combined to work on specific scientific purposes. These payload modules should be easily exchanged for specific dives.


The Deep-Sea research Group at AWI runs an AUV manufactured by the American company Bluefin Robotics.


  • Technical specifications

depth rating: 3000 m

average speed: 3-4 knots

range: ~ 70 km (may be extended up to 160 km)

length: 360 cm (may be extended up to 500 cm)

weight: ca. 285 kg (in air; when lengthened up to 800 kg)

navigation: Kearfott Inertial Navigation System (INS)

scientific payload weight: ca. 20% of the total weight


  • Scientific instrumentation

CTD probe

nitrate sensor

methane sensor

Water sampler with a total of 22 sampling tubes à 220 ml volume each (in house development)

Optical sensors for Chlorophyll and Fluorescence measurements.


Contact: T. Wulff, S. Lehmenhecker



Wulff, T., Lehmenhecker, S., Bauerfeind, E., Hoge, U., Shurn, K., Klages, M. (2013). Biogeochemical research with an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle: Payload structure and arctic operations. OCEANS - Bergen, 2013 MTS/IEEE, doi:10.1109/OCEANS-Bergen.2013.6608043