The autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) market (without payload) to grow from USD 638 million in 2020 to USD 1,638 million by 2025; and expects it to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 20.8% from 2020 to 2025. AUVs are widely in oil & gas and defense & military applications. Therefore, growing defense spending worldwide and increasing capital expenditure in the offshore industry are factors driving the growth of the AUV market. According to the UN report 2019, the seabed is becoming a tangle of ungoverned seabed cables, presenting a new threat to international peace and security. Therefore, a significant increase in defense spending worldwide has been witnessed. For instance, South Korea increased its defense budget by 8.2% in 2019 to reach USD 42 billion, recording the highest annual rise since 2008.
The integration of swarm technology with AUVs is expected to change the business landscape significantly. Multiple AUVs are used in swarms to reduce the overall time and cost of acquiring data over large areas. AUVs used in fleets are smaller, cheaper, robust, reliable, and scalable in terms of design than single, sophisticated AUVs. AUV swarms are becoming popular as they can be used in harsh aquatic environments with water currents, moving bodies of debris and animals, high corrosion rates, limited communication bandwidth, and high communication signal attenuation. AUV fleets are increasingly being used in seabed mapping, rescue and surveillance, and mine countermeasure applications. For instance, in 2018, Ocean Infinity (US) signed a contract with the Government of Malaysia to find Malaysia Airlines Flight, MH370, which went missing on March 8, 2014, with 239 people onboard. Ocean Infinity used a swarm of 8 AUVs for the operation. Autonomous Robotics (UK) is also developing ocean bottom seismic technology using a swarm of AUVs.
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Among applications, the archeological & exploration segment of the AUV market is expected to grow at the highest CAGR during the forecast period. AUVs can be used as an important tool for underwater exploration activities to extract minerals such as cobalt, zinc, and magnesium; these minerals are used in the fabrication of smartphones, laptops, and hybrid cars, among others. According to the Digital Index of North American Archaeology (DINAA), there would be an increase in the number of underwater archeological sites if the sea level rises by 1 meter, which would submerge more than 13,000 recorded historic and prehistoric archeological sites, as well as over 1000 locations currently eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). The rise in demand for AUVs used in archeological and exploration applications has led companies to manufacture AUVs and payloads catering to the requirements of archeologists and marine research institutes.
Among payloads, the sensors segment is expected to grow at the highest CAGR during the forecast period. The growth of this segment can be attributed to the increasing adoption of sensors in scanning, detecting, mapping, and remote sensing applications. For instance, SeaOWL UV-ATM in-situ oil-in-water sensor manufactured by Sea-Bird Scientific (US) is used with Slocum Glider of Teledyne Webb Research (US) for oil detection applications. Thus, companies are focusing on the development of high-end sensors for a wide range of applications in AUVs.
AUVs are expected to advance technologically in terms of battery life, autonomy, and manipulation ability in coming years, thereby leading to their increased foothold in the commercial sector. AUVs have an average battery life of less than 24 hours that significantly reduces if AUVs are required to work in deepwaters as thrusters consume the largest amount of power in these vehicles. This limited battery life of AUVs leads to human interference for charging them. Nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries used in AUVs have a slower degradation rate and less leakage probability at the time of accidents than lithium-ion batteries. This leads to the increased use of NiMH batteries in high-speed AUVs. Moreover, the onboard sensors used in AUVs improve their capability to carry electronic equipment for imaging and monitoring applications. They also reduce the power consumption rate of onboard electronic components and lead to the development of technologies such as underwater AUV recharging. For instance, WiBotic (US) offers underwater wireless power and battery intelligence solutions. Kongsberg Maritime (Norway) offers EELUME AUV, which can be permanently deployed on seabed owing to its underwater charging capability. The adoption of these solutions can help AUV operators in reducing the efforts required for swapping old batteries of AUVs with new ones during continuous underwater operations. AUVs are equipped with navigation, communication, and imaging technologies. Inertial navigation systems are implemented in AUVs to improve their accuracy, as well as precision. These technologies have transformed the ability of AUVs to image the seafloor and provide high-resolution seafloor mapping data in deepwaters. The manipulation ability of AUVs can be improved to enable them to make changes in their operations during underwater missions.
AUVs have the edge over remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) as they can move faster owing to the absence of umbilical cords and can collect data at a high data to signal ratio. With the emergence of disruptive technologies such as wireless communication nodes, which enable data transfer between AUVs and satellites, as well as facilitate data gathering and storage, AUVs have become highly autonomous. This, in turn, has eliminated the requirement of human interference to swap memory modules in them. For instance, Hydromea (Switzerland) offers LUMA 500ER, a wireless communication node that enables communication between AUVs at a depth of 6,000 m and satellites.
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