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The ocean is a challenging environment. The ability to map and navigate the depths of the world’s oceans becomes increasingly essential to maintaining an advantage in undersea warfare. A new development effort will provide the US Defense Department and academic organizations authentic virtual environments for developing and evaluating autonomous systems, specifically ocean robotics systems.

Responsive to the US Navy’s emerging technological needs, the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) is partnering with private academia to develop a virtual undersea environment to assist with the research and development of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV) so they can conduct marine mapping of the world’s oceans. NPS researchers and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) will deliver real-world naval solutions in the form of new underwater autonomous capabilities.

The virtual environments are designed for a variety of underwater platforms, to test their operations and be able to develop the autonomous software before doing real-world tests.

“As AUV technologies improve, the hope is that we will both extend our [mapping] capabilities while simultaneously reducing risk to human operators,” according to the researchers.

For WHOI, partnering with NPS to create a virtual undersea environment can be used as a testbed for AUVs under development. For a virtual undersea map to be a reality, it will be autonomous systems that are exploring the ocean depths, and at lesser risk and expense than their manned counterparts, as reported by