Bluefin Robotics: A Look Back at 25 Years of UUVs

Bluefin Robotics: A Look Back at 25 Years of UUVs
A Bluefin Robotics-built MACRURA UUV deployed in the Arctic. (Image credit: MIT, GDMS)

General Dynamics Mission Systems (GDMS) Bluefin Robotics has a 25-year tradition of delivering unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) that have been customized for use by the military and research institutions to conduct challenging underwater missions and further undersea scientific knowledge.

Bluefin Robotics vehicles have significant internal volume and power—including the power for on-board data processing that permits autonomous navigation and extended mission execution, and can be readily adapted to varied missions by installing different payloads. The company offers a range of modular, free-flooded UUV platforms—including 21-inch, 12-inch and 9-inch diameter vehicles— and products.

Bluefin Robotics was started in 1997 to commercialize UUV technology that was being developed at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). In the early days of the fledgling company, parts of the vehicles would be wheeled between small workshops and garages where the development, manufacturing and assembly took place.

"Before I came onboard in 2007, Bluefin Robotics’ first facility was a former auto parts warehouse a few blocks from MIT," said software engineer Steve Summit. "The company expanded into the 'ambulance garage,' so named because that's what it had been. The team literally rolled the vehicles across the street, dodging the traffic.”


It became a wholly owned subsidiary of Battelle Memorial Institute in 2005. Later the company moved to spacious facilities in what was once the General Dynamics Quincy Shipyard and is now called the General Dynamics Mission Systems UUV Research, Development and Offshore Test facility.

With the maturation of the US Navy’s Knifefish surface mine countermeasure (SMCM) UUV program, General Dynamics Mission Systems transferred the manufacturing and assembly to the General Dynamics Mission Systems UUV Manufacturing and Assembly Center of Excellence in Taunton, Massachusetts, co-located with a number of GDMS’ product lines.

“Technology advancements for both autonomous underwater vehicles and sensors are allowing new and more detailed surveying of the seabed in challenging environments,” said Dr. Laura Hooks, Vice President and General Manager of the Maritime and Strategic Systems business at GDMS.

“Given the increasing importance of unmanned systems in naval operations, our UUVs and other autonomous systems continue to be a focal point for investment and innovation. The pace of development will only increase as more users see the value of this technology in their mission areas.”


With a 25-year history of UUVs, GDMS is ready for the future of undersea autonomy. Paul Dalton, Vice President of Autonomous Underwater Systems at GDMS said the Bluefin Robotics products have a strong history of being very reliable, leading edge UUVs.

“GDMS Bluefin Robotics UUVs continue to shape future missions and unmanned maritime capabilities. We continue to leverage industry investments in energy, autonomy, and sensing technologies to execute increasingly complex missions in the most challenging environment known to man. Today we are just beginning to realize the value these new and exciting capabilities can have in the undersea domain, and as our mission endurance and execution capabilities continue to mature. I have no doubt our UUVs will completely change the paradigm of undersea warfare," Dalton added.

Michael Guay joined soon after GDMS acquired Bluefin Robotics in 2016, first coming in to manage the Bluefin Robotics product line, then later expanding the team’s portfolio in Science and Technology programs. He now leads the entire Autonomous Undersea Systems business segment, which includes Bluefin Robotics UUVs. “It was remarkable to come into an environment with so much heritage," Guay said.

“The introduction of the refreshed Bluefin-9 and Bluefin-12 UUVs in 2018 and 2019, respectively, was in part us paying homage to the amazing legacy of Bluefin Robotics. As we look forward as a business, it’s with a continued, intense focus on developing unmanned systems that exceed our customers’ expectations. Despite being in this space for 25 years, we still find ourselves at this unique convergence of technology, world events, policymaking, etc.—perhaps even more so now than in our past. In many ways, it feels like we’re just at the beginning of this journey.”

This story was originally  featured in ON&T April 2023. Click here to read more..



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