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What Are Underwater Drones?

Underwater drones are unmanned submersible vehicles designed for exploring and conducting various tasks beneath the water’s surface. They are equipped with cameras, sensors, and sometimes robotic arms, making them valuable tools for underwater exploration, research, inspection, and maintenance.

Here are some key points about underwater drones:

Types of Underwater Drones:

  • Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs): ROVs are tethered unmanned submarines controlled by human operators from the surface. They are commonly used in scientific research, offshore industries, and for underwater inspections.
  • Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs): AUVs are self-propelled, untethered vehicles programmed to carry out pre-defined missions autonomously. They are frequently used for oceanographic research, seabed mapping, and environmental monitoring.
  • Hybrid Vehicles: Some underwater drones combine features of both ROVs and AUVs, offering the flexibility to operate both autonomously and under remote control.

Underwater Drone Applications:

  • Scientific Research: Underwater drones play a crucial role in marine biology, oceanography, and geology, helping scientists explore and study underwater ecosystems, collect samples, and conduct experiments.
  • Environmental Monitoring: They are used to monitor water quality, track changes in marine life, and assess the impact of human activities on aquatic environments.
  • Search and Rescue: Underwater drones can be employed in search and rescue missions to locate and retrieve objects or individuals submerged underwater.
  • Infrastructure Inspection: In industries such as offshore oil and gas, underwater drones are used to inspect subsea structures, pipelines, and underwater installations for maintenance and safety purposes.
  • Archaeological Exploration: Archaeologists use underwater drones to explore and document underwater archaeological sites, including shipwrecks and submerged historical remains.
  • Mapping and Surveying: AUVs are often equipped with sonar and other mapping equipment to create detailed underwater maps of the seafloor and oceanographic features.
  • Commercial and Recreational Diving: Some underwater drones are designed for recreational use, allowing divers to explore underwater environments and capture high-quality footage.
  • Fishing: The utilisation of underwater drones is on the rise within the fishing industry, with the aim of strengthening various aspects of the fishing experience. These drones play pivotal roles in tasks such as fish detection and the enhancement of fishing methodologies.

Technology and Features:

  • Cameras and Sensors: Underwater drones are equipped with high-definition cameras and various sensors, such as sonar, to capture images and data from underwater environments.
  • Tether or Wireless Connectivity: ROVs are typically tethered to the surface for power and communication, while AUVs are untethered and communicate through acoustic signals or satellite links.
  • Robotic Arms: Many ROVs feature robotic arms with manipulators for tasks like collecting samples, retrieving objects, or performing delicate operations.
  • Navigation Systems: AUVs rely on sophisticated navigation systems, including GPS, inertial navigation, and acoustic positioning, to autonomously navigate underwater.
  • Battery Technology: Advances in battery technology have improved the endurance and range of underwater drones, enabling longer missions.


  • Pressure and Depth: Underwater drones must withstand high water pressure as they descend to greater depths, requiring robust construction and sealing.
  • Communication: Maintaining reliable communication with underwater drones, especially at significant depths, can be challenging due to the limitations of electromagnetic signals underwater.
  • Energy Efficiency: Extending the battery life of underwater drones is crucial for longer missions, and energy-efficient propulsion systems are continually being developed.
  • Cost: High-quality underwater drones, especially those designed for deep-sea exploration, can be expensive to build and maintain.

How Deep Can Underwater Drones Go?

Commercial underwater drones, generally possess the capability to access depths ranging from approximately 10 to 150 meters (30 to 492 feet). It’s important to note that as the drone descends into deeper waters, it encounters increasingly higher pressure, necessitating a commensurate increase in structural strength to withstand these underwater forces.

Is a License Required for Operating an Underwater Drone?

No, a license is generally not required for operating underwater drones. While some specific locations may be protected by local laws, unlike their aerial counterparts, Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) have not garnered significant legislative attention. This is due to the fact that ROVs do not pose risks to air traffic or the potential for falling onto individuals. Consequently, the need for licensing for underwater drone operation does not appear imminent.

Overall, underwater drones are valuable tools for exploring and studying the world beneath the water’s surface, with applications ranging from scientific research to industrial inspections and recreational diving. Advances in technology continue to expand their capabilities and make underwater exploration more accessible and informative.