Small sub surfaces from down under

Researchers at the Australian National University claim to have developed the world’s smallest autonomous underwater vehicle.

The ‘Serafina’, as the small submersible is called, is 40 centimetres long, with five propellers and a plastic hull crammed with rechargeable batteries and circuitry. The craft is able to travel at a relatively fast underwater speed of one metre per second – equivalent to fast walking pace – but can also hover, tilt and right itself if overturned.

Most importantly, the team have managed to refine the design so Serafina can be produced relatively cheaply – starting at around $1,000 Australian Dollars per basic unit. This raises the potential for large numbers of Serafinas to be deployed, travelling together in swarm formation, like a school of fish.

‘Now that we have developed the world’s smallest autonomous underwater vehicle at a reasonable cost, it provides a promising platform to develop a fleet, or swarm of underwater Serafinas, which could provide valuable new data about our seas and what lies beneath them,’ the leader of the development team, Dr. Uwe Zimmer said.

The Serafina has been designed to be autonomous. It can be programmed in advance, and will be sufficiently strong to be dropped from the side of a ship – eliminating the need for cranes and launching systems that typically limit the usage of underwater exploration vehicles to fine weather.

It has been developed in the Department of Systems Engineering in the ANU Research School of Information Sciences and Engineering, in a collaboration between staff and students, led by Dr. Zimmer.

The team aim to develop the Serafina to be able to travel to a depth of between 3000 and 5000 metres, and to be flexible enough to carry a range of sensors useful in undersea exploration and oceanic monitoring.

There has been considerable interest from shipping and salvage companies in locating sunken cargo and ships but there are potentially many other applications, including checking underwater cables, searches for downed aircraft, searches for undersea mineral deposits and monitoring of currents and temperatures in the ocean.

For more detail on the project, including photographs, click <link>here=http://syseng.anu.edu.au/Projects/Serafina</link>.