Lab History 1991-2001
of the Odyssey-class of
Autonomous Underwater Vehicles.
During 1991 and 1992 a revolutionary new autonomous underwater
vehicle (AUV) was developed at the MIT Sea Grant College Program
AUV Laboratory. This vehicle, called Odyssey, was designed
to provide marine scientists with economical access to the
ocean. This first Odyssey AUV underwent field trials off of
New England in 1992 and (deployed from the National Science
Foundation (NSF) icebreaker the Nathaniel B. Palmer) off of
Antarctica in early 1993. The work on Odyssey was supported
by the Sea Grant College Program, MIT, the National Science
Foundation, and the National Underwater Research Program.
of these deployments led to the creation of a second-generation
vehicle, Odyssey II, work that was supported by the Office
of Naval Research (ONR). In the spring of 1994, Odyssey II
was deployed from an ice-camp in the Beaufort Sea in support
of a program to understand Arctic sea-ice mechanics. All operations
were carried out in a 15' x 15' tent, enclosing a hydrohole
through five feet of ice. While at the ice camp, Odyssey II
performed a series of "out-and-back" missions, demonstrating
its ability to home into the recovery net. Tests were cut
short after nine days when the ice floe began to break up,
forcing the evacuation of the camp. These tests set the groundwork
for providing a unique capability to study transient events
in the ice.
Sea Grant support, Odyssey II was operated from the NOAA ship
Discoverer as part of the 1994 and 1995 VENTS programs (in
a collaboration with the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental
Laboratory). A combination of tethered and free-swimming dives
demonstrated navigation and tracking of the AUV over the Juan
de Fuca Ridge, and fully-autonomous, untethered operation,
as deep as 1,400 meters.
four new vehicles were built under ONR sponsorship. As some
elements of the design were improved, these vehicles are denoted
Odyssey IIb. The original Odyssey II was upgraded to be the
same as the Odyssey IIb vehicles. Some of the vehicles have
been loaned to collaborators at Woods Hole, the Navy NRaD
center in San Diego, and to industry (Electronic Design Consultants
in Chapel Hill, NC). These vehicles have proved to be relatively
simple to use and robust when operated by non-MIT personnel.
For example, in June of 1996, two of the Odyssey IIb AUVs
were used in a month-long experiment that studied the dynamics
of frontal mixing in the Haro Strait, off of Vancouver Island.
The vehicles carried water quality sensors, a side-scan sonar,
and an water-current profiler. Over a 21-day period, the two
vehicles performed 67 dives with no failures of the base vehicles
and only one day lost to weather.
1997 through 2000 the AUV Lab focused its efforts on developing
and demonstrating an Autonomous Ocean Sampling Network (AOSN).
This effort was funded by ONR and involved numerous collaborators,
notably the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). While
the MIT AUV Lab continued its vehicle development work, WHOI
developed a mooring system that allowed the AUVs to dock for
data downloading and battery recharging. Additional moorings
and communications systems were developed that provided seamless
interface, albeit with low bandwidth, between the AUVs and
ship or shore controllers. The components and eventually the
entire system were tested and demonstrated in several field
experiments ranging from the Labrador Sea to Monterey Bay.
Two notable cruises included a search for Giant Squid off
New Zealand in 1997 and the Generic Oceanographic Array Technology
Sonar (GOATS) expedition to Elba, Italy in 1998. The AOSN
research effort was officially concluded with a final field
experiment in August 2000.
deployment was also the first major expedition for the new
standard vehicle at the MIT AUV Lab. The Odyssey IIc class
vehicles were developed in the late 1990s. These are mechanically
identical to the earlier Odyssey IIbs but new software, computers
and sensors enhanced their already proven capabilities. The
Odyssey IIc was first tested in Monterey California in January
1999. They then performed the AOSN deployment in August 2000.
After that, in September and October, they went straight on
to a second GOATS cruise off the island of Elba, Italy. During
this cruise the Odyssey IIc vehicles were further developed
to include new navigation techniques and an improved user
to the AOSN work, and Odyssey IIc development, efforts were
conducted to commercialize the MIT AUV technology and make
it available to an audience beyond ocean science and research.
The primary industrial application envisioned was in offshore
oil services, notably exploration and survey. In 1997 Bluefin
Robotics was incorporated. Market studies and business analysis
led to the opening of Bluefin's design and manufacturing facility
in 1999. This large growth of the company, understandably,
led many of the AUV Lab's engineers to fully transition to
the commercial arena and work for Bluefin. Over the same time
period, Dr. James Bellingham, the AUV Lab Manager transitioned
to a new position as Director of Engineering at the Monterey
Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI). Dr. Bellingham has
established another AUV research group at MBARI which collaborates
closely with MIT's AUV Lab and Bluefin Robotics.
with a large departure of engineering talent and transitioning
leadership the MIT AUV Lab has chosen to consolidate its efforts.
AUV development and production will be left to Bluefin, located
conveniently close to the AUV Lab. With a reduced staff, and
a smaller fleet of vehicles, the MIT AUV Lab is now focused
on enhancing AUV technologies and pushing the application
of AUVs into new scientific areas. The primary area of future
technology research is adapting the AOSN concept to yield
a mobile network for ocean observation. The planned area for
new scientific application of AUVs is marine archaeology in
deep water (below SCUBA limits). A preliminary effort was
conducted in June 2001 when an Odyssey IIc AUV was deployed
to Greece to search for a shipwreck in the Mediterranean Sea.