Russ Light

Head, OE Department

Senior Principal Engineer

OE Department


Craig Lee

Senior Principal Oceanographer

OPD Department


Professor, Oceanography






Autonomous Underwater Vehicle

The Applied Physics Laboratory has led autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) design and development since the 1950s, and now Seaglider heralds a revolution in AUV oceanographic applications. With satellite data telemetry Seaglider delivers continuous, real-time data relay and rational control capabilities over large geographic areas and long time scales.

Seaglider moves away in the deep blue

Seagliders fly through the water with extremely modest energy requirements using changes in buoyancy for thrust coupled with a stable, low-drag, hydrodynamic shape. Designed to operate at depths up to 1000 meters, the hull compresses as it sinks, matching the compressibility of seawater.

The AUV Seaglider is the result of a collaborative effort between APL-UW and the UW School of Oceanography. These small, free-swimming vehicles can gather conductivity-temperature-depth (CTD) data from the ocean for months at a time and transmit it to shore in near-real time via satellite data telemetry.

Seagliders make oceanographic measurements traditionally collected by research vessels or moored instruments, but at a fraction of the cost. They can survey along a transect, profile at a fixed location, and can be commanded to alter their sampling strategies throughout a mission.


Operational Modes


  • Physical, chemical, and biological oceanography
  • Tactical oceanography
  • Maritime reconnaissance
  • Communication gateway
  • Navigation aid
  • Survey: transits a sequence of waypoint targets
  • Virtual mooring: profiles at target location
  • Loiter and drift: maintains neutral buoyancy at any depth
  • Loiter on bottom: maintains negative buoyancy
  • Surface: positions antenna mast for GPS/RF data telemetry
  • First to complete >3800 km mission
  • First to complete >7 month mission
  • First to conduct multi-glider mission


How Seaglider Flies through Water

Seaglider moves through the ocean and communicates with satellites to transmit data and determine its global position. It uses changes in buoyancy for thrust and a stable hydrodynamic shape to achieve flight in the water.

Its low drag body, horizontal wings, and fixed rudder allow it to fly up and down through the water column. As Seaglider dives and ascends its wings cause it to glide, allowing horizontal movement.

Internal sensors monitor the depth, heading and attitude of the AUV. External sensors are constantly scanning the ocean to determine water properties.

Schematic showing Seaglider flight path

Seaglider antenna breaks the surface of Elliott Bay within view of Seattle's Space Needle