Underwater Drones to Be Tested in Japan from June; Govt Aims to Promote Domestic AUV Manufacturing

Courtesy of Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology
The autonomous underwater vehicle AUV NEXT

The government will start in June demonstration tests for the practical use of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), which can automatically navigate underwater, according to sources.

While AUVs are expected to be used in the fields of marine resource development and national security, private companies have not yet entered the market due to high manufacturing costs and lack of experience in their use.

AUVs, also called underwater drones, are expected to be used in hazardous waters and deep-sea areas where water pressure is high. The production cost per unit ranges from tens of millions of yen to over one billion yen.

The government expects AUVs will be used for such purposes as inspection of offshore wind power generation facilities and underwater surveillance and vigilance activities. The government plans to put them into practical use by 2030.

For offshore wind power generation, in addition to the selection of suitable sites, the government envisions demonstration tests with the inspection of floating facilities in mind, with a view to expanding their introduction in the future. In the planned tests, the government plans to use existing oil pipelines on the ocean floor to stand in for underwater power cables to check for damage and fouling.

In light of China’s maritime expansion, the government will also strengthen its undersea surveillance and vigilance capabilities, such as searching for suspicious objects. The government is also considering using the AUVs for surveys of ecosystems and water quality.

Companies that own AUVs, as well as research institutes and organizations that conduct oceanographic surveys, will be invited to the demonstration tests. After screening proposals and other documents, the government will select about three teams to be involved in the tests. The government will shoulder part of cost for the tests, at up to ¥50 million per team. The demonstration tests will be conducted from June through December, and the teams will be required to compile reports on the results and issues to be discussed.

The government formulated a strategy for domestic production of AUVs late last year with the aim of industrializing AUVs by 2030. AUVs are expensive to manufacture, and the United States and China lead the global market. Many of the models used in Japan are made overseas.

AUVs are also expected to be a means of compensating for labor shortages. The government hopes to explore fields in which AUVs can be put to use through the tests and will encourage new companies to enter the market.