Advanced Acoustic Concepts to develop enabling technologies for unmanned underwater vehicle machine autonomy

Jan. 11, 2021
Angler project to develop enabling technologies for new capabilities in autonomous exploration and manipulation on the seafloor.

ARLINGTON, Va. – U.S. Military researchers needed enabling technologies for a deep-diving unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) and control system able to find and manipulate objects in deep-ocean environments. They found their solution from Advanced Acoustic Concepts LLC in Hauppauge, N.Y.

Officials of the U.S. Office of Naval Research (ONR) in Arlington, Va., announced a $9.3 million contract to Advanced Acoustic Concepts on Thursday for the Angler project (not an acronym) for new capabilities in machine autonomy for exploration and manipulation on the seafloor. Advanced Acoustic Concepts is expected to be one of several contractors to work on separate aspects of the Angler program.

The DARPA Angler project has two tracks. First it seeks to develop an autonomous undersea control system that processes mission commands and sensor inputs, understands the seabed and provides control inputs to unmanned vehicles to complete physical manipulation objectives on the seafloor.

Second, the project seeks to design an underwater robot to navigate the seafloor and physically manipulate objects in deep- ocean environments. ONR awarded the contract on behalf of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Va.

Related: Unmanned submarines seen as key to dominating the world’s oceans

Advanced Acoustic Concepts is involved in the track A portion of the Angler project to develop an integrated solution for all challenges in Angler technology and operational areas.

DARPA awarded the original Angler contracts to six companies in November 2019. Track A contractors were Leidos, Northrop Grumman Corp., and L3Harris Technologies. Track B contractors were SoarTech, EdgeTech, and Kitware.

The deep ocean remains one of the most challenging earth-bound domains, despite breakthroughs in terrestrial robotics, space robotics, and underwater sensing, DARPA scientists explain.

While the seafloor often is gently sloping sand dunes, it also has natural and man-made obstacles that complicate search and navigation tasks. Reefs, submarine vents, and fissures can be treacherous, and can change quickly. This represents a major challenge to classical perception techniques, which rely on feature recognition.

Related: Future unmanned underwater vehicles with machine autonomy for deep-sea missions are focus of DARPA Angler program

Deep-sea missions also require continuous operation over thousands of miles without the aid of Global Positioning System (GPS) localization or human communication or cognition, which imposes substantial autonomy requirements on an already complex system.

Manipulating objects underwater is more difficult than it sounds. Seawater, for example, may be murky enough to complicate perception, search, object recognition, and estimation. Man-made objects also may be deteriorated, slippery, partially covered.

For these reasons, underwater manipulation is difficult enough using teleoperation with the aid of human operators; it's even harder with vision systems and machine autonomy mixed-in.

Underwater manipulation today typically happens with remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) tethered to a surface vessel, and tele-operated by a human pilot. This can limit their utility because ROVs cannot extend beyond their tethers, and need several operators.

Related: Unmanned underwater vehicle machine autonomy seeks to detect and avoid fishing nets and kelp beds

Wireless communications for sub-sea teleoperations, moreover, largely is impractical because seawater attenuates electromagnetic wave propagation and available bandwidth.

Instead, DARPA researchers want Advanced Acoustic Concepts to develop the Angler robotic system capable of long-distance underwater manipulation missions.

It will operate autonomously and without external communication to navigate, search, localize, and physically manipulate objects on or near the seabed, using onboard sensors to self-localize, avoid obstacles, interact with the seabed, and manipulate objects. It also will be able to search for and manipulate deep undersea objects in dark or murky water.

Chief enabling technologies for this project will involve manipulation and autonomy in underwater robotics, DARPA researchers say. Eventually these technologies may move to an operational military system.

Related: Bluefin Robotics takes step toward autonomous adaptive collaboration among unmanned underwater vehicles

DARPA researchers expect the Angler program to capitalize on land-, space-, and floating-base robotics, terrestrial autonomous manipulation, and underwater sensing for long-distance, seabed-based missions.

The program aims to discover autonomous robotic solutions in sensing techniques for high-resolution navigation in GPS-deprived underwater environments; perception and manipulation for grasping degraded and malformed manmade objects; long-duration autonomy; and mission planning without human intervention.

The Angler program will fit an underwater robot with autonomy and control for several physical manipulation objectives in one long mission without human intervention. Advanced Acoustic Concepts experts will focus on autonomy and decision support algorithms to identify challenging objects and plan grasp those objects.

Related: Lockheed Martin to capitalize on XLUUV work for enabling technologies in future unmanned undersea vehicles

DARPA scientists want Advanced Acoustic Concepts to capitalize on existing hardware, software, simulation infrastructure, and physical interfaces as much as possible.

Capabilities of interest include long-duration machine autonomy; information fusion; object recognition; autonomous grasp planning; dynamic station keeping at or near the seabed; and sustained sprint capabilities to evade obstacles and traffic.

For more information contact Advanced Acoustic Concepts online at, the Office of Naval Research at, or DARPA at

About the Author

John Keller | Editor-in-Chief

John Keller is the Editor-in-Chief, Military & Aerospace Electronics Magazine--provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronics and optoelectronic technologies in military, space and commercial aviation applications. John has been a member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since 1989 and chief editor since 1995.

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Military Aerospace, create an account today!