Bluefin-21 Dives Deep in Search of Malaysia Flight 370
Kyle Maxey posted on April 22, 2014 |
One of the world’s most advanced AUV’s pushes its limits in search of Malaysia Airlines&...
bluefin, navy, malaysia, airlines, salvage, recoveryOver the past few weeks the US Navy and Phoenix International have deployed one of the world’s most sophisticated robotic submersibles, the Bluefin-21, in search of Malaysia Airlines’ missing jet.

While the search for the plane’s black box continues, the recovery effort has pushed the Bluefin to its limits and in a recent dive the submersible plunged beyond it’s own depth rating, reaching 4,695m (15,404ft).

Originally designed for offshore surveys, mine countermeasures and the detection of undetonated ordinance, the 4.93m (16.2ft) long autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) is perfectly suited for deep-sea operations. Weighing in at 750kg (1,650lbs) the Bluefin is capable of using its side-scanning sonar to map 145sq. km (90sq.m) of the Indian Ocean daily.

While the Bluefin is a remarkable machine, its components and body are still limited by the crushing forces of the ocean above. In fact, the Bluefin-21 is such a valuable piece of hardware that once it nears its depth limit a snippet of code built into it’s programming forces the AUV to return to the surface.

Although a perfectly reasonable piece of self-preserving tech, the Bluefin’s safety switch has been limiting search rescue efforts and was recent disabled to push the machine past its limits.

“This is the first time the Bluefin-21 has descended to this depth,” Navy spokesman Lt. JG Daniel Marciniak said in a statement. “Diving to such depths does carry with it some residual risk to the equipment.”

Currently, the Bluefin’s operators aren’t willing to pin a precise number to the AUV’s limits stating that ocean conditions will dictate how deep the Bluefin can dive. However, given the time sensitive nature of the current rescue operation the US Navy and Phoenix International might be willing to push the envelope more than usual.

As the search for clues surrounding the final moments of MH370’s fateful flight continues, the Bluefin will continue to push its operational limits. Hopefully, one of man’s most finely engineered robots will shed some light on recent memory’s most tantalizing and tragic mystery.

Image Courtesy of US Navy

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