Craig Lee

Senior Principal Oceanographer

OPD Department


Professor, Oceanography



Seaglider: Autonomous Underwater Vehicle

Basic and Applied Research Push Vehicle's Capabilities

About Seaglider
Expanding Capabilities

Seaglider offers depth, versatility, and persistence at an operating cost far less than an ocean research vessel. People should like them because they're really cool, but they do like them because they're comparatively inexpensive.

Expanding Seaglider Capabilities

A Unique Platform

APL-UW scientists continually expand Seaglider’s hardware and software systems, and sensor packages. Recent additions:

  • single voltage battery pack to replace a dual high and low voltage system (increases mission duration)
  • off-board science controller that samples sensors only, leaving main processor to run vehicle systems more efficiently
  • passive autonomous acoustic monitoring using hydrophones and an internal recording and detection electronics board (marine mammal research)
  • micro-structure sensors, which respond to very high-frequency temperature fluctuations, to measure mixing in the ocean
  • software control for under-ice missions and acoustic navigation capabilities in the absence of satellite communications

Seaglider has proven itself adaptable to a wide range of conditions with many sensors that were never originally intended to be part of the vehicle. It has a track record for very long missions and reliability in extreme ocean environments. It has been used effectively in strong western boundary currents, under ice cover, strong tidal currents, and relatively shallow water. These operating environments were not part of the original design, but the pursuit of specific science questions and engineering excellence have pushed the platform to perform new research missions.

Seaglider Commercialization


In May 2013, UW’s Center for Commercialization licensed the manufacture of Seagliders to Kongsberg Underwater Technology, Inc. granting them sole rights to produce, market and continue the development of Seaglider technology. Commercialization will take Seagliders wider into the environmental monitoring arena and the oil and gas industry. The UW Seaglider Fabrication Center will continue to build and service Seagliders for UW researchers and to service units sold before the Kongsberg licensing.

There have been nearly 200 Seagliders manufactured. The vehicle was first developed for oceanographic research — taking measurements of conductivity or equivalent salinity, temperature, phytoplankton concentration, oxygen concentration, etc. More recently, the U.S. Navy has used the vehicle to detect and monitor marine mammals in their operating areas, some of which are remote and/or covered in bad weather, which make visual observations impossible. The oil and gas industry is an emerging market for Seaglider, where it may be used to monitor environmental conditions for offshore operations.

Animation of Seaglider Mode of Operation This animation demonstrates how Seaglider moves through the ocean and communicates with satellites to transmit data and determine its global position. As Seaglider dives and ascends its wings cause it to glide, allowing horizontal movement. Internal sensors monitor the depth, heading and attitude of the vehicle. External sensors are constantly scanning the ocean to determine water properties. The animation is a 3D simulation of how Seaglider maneuvers. Cut-away views of the internal mechanics show how Seaglider pitches, rolls, dives, ascends, and surfaces. (Note: There is no audio.)

YouTube video (run-time 4:15)

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

More About This Research