Below is an excerpt from an article in the June/July issue of Unmanned Vehicles featuring General Dynamics Bluefin Robotics products -- to read the full article, visit

Watchers in the Water

By: Richard Thomas, June/July 2016

Leveraging experience

Bluefin Robotics is leveraging years of experience operating its family of AUVs such as the Bluefin-21, Bluefin-12D, Bluefin-12S, Bluefin-9M, Bluefin-9, HAUV and SandShark. While all systems listed could perform a role in ensuring port security, the 9M, 9 and HAUV would find themselves operating closest to shore.

At the top end of Bluefins products in terms of endurance are the 12D and 12S, which are able to maintain themselves on station for up to 30 hours (for the D model) at a time. Mobility for the family is most often provided by ducted thrusters.

According to company information, the 9 and 9M variants typically perform a variety of roles including: inshore survey; environmental protection and monitoring; mine countermeasures; port and harbour security; unexploded ordnance disposal; rapid environmental assessment and ISR.

The 9M has a length of 2.5m (compared to 4.93m for the larger Bluefin-21) and is sized to operate in the tight confines of commercial or military ports and harbours. A ten-hour endurance is achievable when maneuvering at 3kt, although this reduces when the platform reaches its top speed of around 5kt. Multiple payload functions are possible, including a side-scan sonar (Edge 2205), multi-beam echo sounder, sub-bottom profiler and EO camera, covering roles ranging from MCM to hydrographic survey.

The HAUV, the smallest vehicle in the portfolio, covers roles such as ship hull inspection. Equipped with a high-resolution imaging sonar, it can search out imperfections or faults on a vessel in a fraction of the time it would take a diver to complete the same task. Using this sonar, it can survey with minimal prior knowledge, and although capable of conducting autonomous tasks, it can be switched to manual control for closer inspections by the operator should something of interest come to light.

Functional family

...according to Rand LeBouvier, strategic communications director at Bluefin Robotics, speaking to UV at Xponential 2016.

A seaport due to accept a cruise ship will send divers along the pier before it arrives and this is not always 100% reliable and it is dangerous. Our Mk 19 [HAUV] system can inspect those pier pilings very quickly and efficiently and provide real-time data and make changes if something has been placed.

We are not replacing the divers we are keeping them out of harms way. That's the key, you don't want to put those guys out of business. We need to convey the message to them that they can do ten jobs instead of one job [using unmanned systems] with those divers and make more money.


ROVs are commonly used to inspect ship hulls, a process that some think could be expanded to reduce dry-dock periods. (Image: Bluefin Robotics)


Business Models

There are also unexplored cost savings coming to light, according to Bluefin, in other uses such as vessel hull inspection, a time-consuming and expensive process for merchant shipping companies. By using an AUV or ROV to perform the inspection while the ship is in the water, even unloading containers in port, would be of significant value to the ship owners.

The benefit is more than just a map of the ship hull that certainly has value but there are also requirements for ships to periodically undergo thorough inspection, and this usually means dry docking.