Launched in 1996, ABE-Vne Autonomous Benthic Explorer-is a strange looking triple-hull submersible developed and operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). Since its maiden voyage, the autonomous unmanned vehicle (AUV) that can operate independently to depths as great as 20,000 feet has successfully completed more than 200 unattended dives in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
It has been nearly a half-century since the first deep-diving submersibles entered service. These were the primitive manned vehicles such as the Navy's bathyscaph Trieste. By the end of the 1970s, more than 250 different designs had been built for a wide variety of underwater tasks. Today, there are perhaps four dozen employed, mostly for oceanographie research and tourism.
It was 1964 when Woods Hole began operating a manned submersible, the Navy-owned Alvin. Arguably the bestknown scientific submersible, the Alvin's 4,200 dives have added much to our knowledge of the deep ocean to depths as great as 14,500 feet. Now, at the age of 40, the Alvin will be replaced by an updated manned vehicle, financed by the National Science Foundation and able to dive to 21,500 feet.