Technology developments arose from multiple Autosub Science Workshops, and staff spent time building up their expertise through working on designs and prototypes while also managing a series of contracts with industry, universities and defence laboratories.
In the final few years at Wormley, the programme experienced some turbulence. Following the fourth Autosub Science Workshop held in Southampton in December 1995, the perfect test tank was identified directly outside the Southampton Oceanography Centre.
In June 1996, Autosub 1 ventured out of the lab for the first time and into Empress Dock at the NOC in Southampton to undergo an exhaustive series of tests which included testing all technological systems and on-surface manoeuvres.
The first demonstration of extended survey type missions, leaving Dunstaffnage Bay and navigating autonomously through the channel that was just 130 metres wide at the narrowest point between the mainland and Eilean Mor.
Autosub 1 was equipped with sensors from Chelsea Instruments, SeaBird CTDs and a state-of-the-art turbulence probe that attached to the nose of the vehicle. This turbulence probe was provided by Dr Manhar Dhanak's group at Florida Atlantic University.
These trials were in preparation for ‘Autosub Science Missions’, a thematic programme created and funded by NERC. This mission was the first to include a LARS (Launch And Recovery System), which meant Calanus, the support vessel, needed to be loaded with extra ballast in order to ensure stability.
Autosub 2 was deployed to the North Sea on the Fisheries Research Vessel Scotia. Uniquely, deployment and recovery were through an opening in the side of the vessel to a space known as the 'hanger', through which the gantry could still be used.
Autosub 2 became the first AUV to carry a Flow Cytometer - an optical instrument to characterise single phytoplankton cells and particles using light scatter and fluorescence. The experimental Cytosub was produced by Cytobuoy NV of the Netherlands.
The Autosub programme was part of a major exhibition surrounding robot submarines. On display were: model of Autosub 2 suspended from the ceiling, an ARGO profiling float, interactive Autosub displays on computer screens, and images from the recent Oban mission.
The Autosub team again braved snow and ice onboard RRS James Clark Ross. Due to heavy ice, the cruise was unable to reach its intended working area, the Pine Island Glacier, and instead Autosub was used on multiple under sea ice missions.
In 2004, Autosub 2 undertook two cruises aboard RRS James Clark Ross in the Arctic. Wings were added to the rear half of the centre section of the vehicle to improve surface diving. The vehicle successfully executed several under sea ice missions.
The major milestone of this campaign was Autosub 2’s first successful under ice shelf mission, taking place at the daunting Fimbulisen Ice Shelf in Antarctica. This campaign was part of the NERC Autosub Under Ice thematic programme, led by Dr Keith Nicholls from the British Antarctic Survey.
The vehicle took part in a number of missions studying deep-sea scours, including providing insights into scour morphology, mapping a giant scour within a broad channel fed by the Lagos & Portimao Canyons, and targeting an area of overbank sediment waves and associated scours across the lower Whittard Channel.
Under the NERC Under Ice thematic programme, Autosub 3 undertook six mission under the Pine Island Glacier, with 167 hours under the Glacier covering a whopping 510km in total. The cruise was aboard the RV Nathaniel B. Palmer, a twin-screw vessel with a cut-away counter.
Autosub6000 continued to take part in deep-water trials in preparation for future missions. This time testing a new obstacle avoidance system and low altitude operations in preparation for seabed photographic surveys and operations in rugged terrain.
As part of an International Interridge Programme cruise, Autosub6000 was tasked with studying ultra-deep hydrothermal vents. The AUV was equipped with an electrochemical Eh sensor provided by Dr Koichi Nakamura, National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, Japan.
Autosub 3 travelled to Turkey to take part in a NERC-funded cruise led by Professor Jeff Peakall of Leeds University to study flow dynamics in the Bosphorus, also known as the Strait of Istanbul. The work was carried out just north of the Bosphorus.
The Autosub Long Range AUV (or ALR) was a new type of AUV with a depth rating of 6000 m. Although a third the weight of the Autosub 3 and the Autosub6000 AUVs, it is able to travel greater than ten times the distance and can be deployed for months at a time.
Autosub6000 took part in this Ecological Sampling and Surveying cruise utilising a new vehicle-mounted photographic system designed by the AUV team. The photographic system consisted of twin camera and flash units, one oblique forward-looking the other vertical, and a dedicated logging processor.
It was not possible to complete the first of two Benthic NERC Shelf Seas Biogeochemistry cruises due to the temporary loss of Autosub 3. An immediate post-mission search began, and an estimated position of the AUV was found from its emergency beacon.
This cruise was the first UK science expedition to the Clarion Clipperton Zone (CCZ) in the northern equatorial Pacific, an area of interest for deep-sea mining for polymetallic nodules. In particular, the cruise visited the north easternmost Area of Particular Environmental Importance (APEI).
Autosub6000 was aboard the RRS James Cook alongside the Isis ROV as part of the ERC CODEMAP project led by Dr Veerle Huvenne. The cruise objectives were to survey and sample the Whittard Canyon system with the ship, AUV and ROV all providing different pieces of the puzzle.
June 2016 saw the commencement of the Oceanids Programme, a £16M Marine Autonomous Systems (MAS) development programme funded by UK Government as part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF).
In June 2017, The RRS James Clark Ross arrived at the NOC, returning Autosub Long Range (ALR), ‘Boaty McBoatface’ home after its first scientific deployment in the Antarctic. Supported by NOC engineers, the team collected data on temperature, speed of water flow and underwater turbulence rates.
From January to February 2018, the Autosub Long-Range, ‘Boaty McBoatface’ was deployed in the southern Weddell Sea during the RV Polarstern cruise PS111 as part of the Filchner Ice Shelf System (FISS) Project – a collaboration involving leading UK research institutions.
The latest Autosub Long Range vehicle (ALR4) being developed under the NERC Oceanids programme successfully completed its first live trials in the waters of Portland Harbour in Dorset, in May 2019.
Autosub6000 returned to the Darwin Mounds, an area of small cold-water coral mounds in the Northern Rockall Trough, which Autosub6000 had previously surveyed in 2011. These mounds, discovered by NOC scientists in 1998, are protected from bottom contact fishing.
Funded by a €8.9M grant from the European Union's Horizon 2020 programme, TechOceanS – Technologies for Ocean Sensing – will pioneer five new sensors, two imaging systems, a novel sampler and an Artificial Intelligence-driven image processing methodology, all capable of robust operations at depths beyond 2,000 metres.
In May, the Oceanids Autosub 5 (formerly Autosub2KUI) platform began its next phase of trials, in-water Harbour Acceptance Testing, in Loch Ness. These trials tested the new onboard control software, advanced navigation systems, and basic vehicle flight dynamics.
In July, the NOC engineering team were in Loch Ness, testing new vehicle navigation and avoidance software ready for the upcoming ALR science deployment under the Thwaites Glacier, Antarctica in early 2022.