Discussion

Increasing the autonomy of AUVs will open many new markets for such vehicles - but it should also provide substantial benefits to current users: Better power sources facilitate longer endurance and/or more power-hungry sensors. Increased navigation autonomy relaxes the requirement for USBL positioning from a surface vessel, the frequency of GPS surface fixes etc. Perhaps most importantly, increased decision autonomy (including sustainability) will increase the probability of successfull completion of missions in all environments, and will also facilitate new missions and new modes of operation. A shift from a manually programmed mission plan to a computer-generated plan based on higher-level operator input will also provide other benefits. Although graphical planning and simulation aids are used extensively with current AUVs, human errors in the planning phase still account for a significant portion of unsuccessful AUV missions. Increasing the automation in the mission planning process and elevating the human operator to a defining and supervisory role will eliminate certain types of errors.

The combined effect of increased energy, navigation and decision autonomy in AUVs will be seen over the next decade. The conservative nature of many current and potential users of AUVs dictates a stepwise adoption of new technology. However, even fairly modest, incremental improvements will facilitate new applications.

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