Design and testing of a pneumatically propelled underwater glider for shallow water


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Virginia Center for Autonomous Systems


This report details the design and testing of a pneumatically propelled underwater glider. The vehicle was designed as a platform for motion control experimentation, and to explore the use of novel actuator designs to improve performance in shallow water and significant currents. The glider’s pneumatic buoyancy engine is capable of rapidly inflating an elastomeric bladder to 5 liters. (This displacement is an order of magnitude greater than that of legacy buoyancy engine designs.) The buoyancy engine was shown to operate reliably at 25 m depth. However, the compressibility of the bladder and associated change in tank weight (from exhausting air with each dive) presented significant challenges in trimming the vehicle. The attitude of the glider is controlled by translating and rotating a semi-annular mass. Because of the geometry of this mechanism, the glider is not restricted to a range of roll attitudes (i.e. the glider has unlimited roll authority and can “flip over”). By flipping over the glider may employ asymmetric hydrodynamic surfaces while preserving the same flow-relative geometry during both descents and ascents. Such asymmetric hydrodynamic surfaces (e.g. cambered hydrofoils, dihedral, wing twist) may be used to improve efficiency and performance. The ability to operate in both upright and inverted orientations requires reducing the contribution of the rigid body (minus the moving mass) to the bottom heaviness of the vehicle. A moving acoustic long-baseline ranging system was developed to position the glider while it was underway. The performance of this system was characterized experimentally in terms of ping success rate for various transducer geometries and depths in a shallow-water, rocky bottom lake.



underwater glider, buoyancy-driven gliding, acoustic positioning