AMCAn innovative new autonomous underwater vehicle capable of diving up to 5,000 metres has been launched to assist with Antarctic research missions.

The $5 million AUV was unveiled at the University of Tasmania’s Australian Maritime College last month.

During an official ceremony, the self-powered and untethered free-swimming robot, was granted the name nupiri muka, which means ‘Eye of the Sea’ in palawa kani, the language of Tasmanian Aborigines.

AUVs use propellers and control planes to travel through the ocean, near the seabed or underneath the ice. They are equipped with a range of sensors that gather information about the surrounding environment, for example, the shape and composition of the seabed and underneath the sea ice; the temperature, saltiness and chemical composition of the water; and the detection of geographical features and man-made structures.

AMC AUV facility coordinator Peter King said the features of the polar underwater robot made it ideal for deployment in challenging, under-ice conditions.

“At nearly seven metres long and weighing one-and-a-half tonnes, nupiri muka’s endurance enables it to travel more than 140km or 24 hours without needing to be recharged. It’s also highly customisable, such that the engineering team can install a range of instruments in addition to those already on board,” Mr King said.

nupiri muka is funded by the Australian Government through the Antarctic Gateway Partnership — a $24 million Special Research Initiative of the Australian Research Council (ARC) that aims to provide new insights into the role of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean in the global climate system. AMC contributed $3 million to the cost of the vehicle.

The vehicle will be maintained and operated by a team of specialist research and technical staff at AMC’s Autonomous Maritime Systems Laboratory, a new engineering research facility that was also formally opened at the College today.

University Vice-Chancellor Professor Peter Rathjen said the AMC had developed a nationally-recognised strength in specialised research and technologies.

“This new facility will advance the signature contributions of the University and its partners to climate sciences, and Antarctic and Southern Ocean research. There are also rich opportunities at AMC for Tasmania to explore the application of these new technologies to modern naval defence, marine biosecurity and cyber marine opportunities, for example.”

The AUV is set for Antarctic deployment in 2018/19.