They can range from a svelte 100 pounds to several thousand. They can be snub-nosed, bullet shaped brutes that can dive six miles deep or buoyancy-propelled machines that can gracefully glide for several months at a time. And they can perform a myriad of tasks ranging from tracking pollution to mapping terrain for oil and gas exploration.
They are autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), the aquatic answer to the airborne drones that track terrorists in Yemen and, if Amazon has its way, could be delivering DVDs and dog food to your back patio.
AUVs gained some measure of public awareness when a Bluefin drone was sent to look for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in the southern Indian Ocean earlier this year. Like their airborne cousins, they can perform a variety of tasks, both scientific and civilian. But also like their airborne cousins, AUVs are finding that their biggest customers are militaries.