Skip to content Go to main navigation Go to language selector
Saab Global
Sabertooth story

How Sabertooth is about to revolutionise underwater autonomy

4 min read + Video

Last year, Saab’s Sabertooth AUV played a starring role in the successful search for Ernest Shackleton’s ship ‘Endurance’. As a major new contract for this autonomous technology is confirmed, Peter Erkers and Jan Siesjö explain that new applications are being developed all the time.

It’s been almost 15 years since the idea of an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) was first conceived by Saab, but now a new multi-million dollar contract promises to take this ingenious technology into the mainstream.

Sabertooth story

Marine geophysical specialists PXGEO recently ordered more than 20 Saab Sabertooth AUVs for use in their seismic surveys of the seabed on behalf of customers in the energy industry, the largest single order to date for the technology. PXGEO will send the Sabertooth AUVs underwater to place and collect thousands of ocean bottom nodes that measure and capture images of the seismic properties of prospective or existing sub-surface energy fields.

It’s a difficult and demanding task that has previously been the domain of remote-operated vehicles. But, as the energy industry adapts to new limitations where maximising resources is even more pressing, PXGEO decided to switch to the Sabertooth, which operates quickly and autonomously without the need for a costly support structure.

Taking the next step in underwater autonomy

PXGEO is one of Saab's latest customers on the underwater vehicle Sabertooth. See more about their view on Sabertooth, its autonomy and how its about to change how they perform their operations.

Video - 06:51

“In the offshore energy industry time is money, which means the customer wants to do things faster and with fewer people,” explains Peter Erkers, Sales Director for Underwater Systems at Saab.

“PXGEO first rented a Sabertooth and tested it for more than a year. The company was very happy with our solution and the key thing is that this is a proven technology that has the benefit of having been 15 years in the field.”

“The Sabertooth allows users to do more with fewer people, and that has both safety and cost advantages”

“The Sabertooth allows users to do more with fewer people, and that has both safety and cost advantages,” adds Jan Siesjö, a long-time Saab employee and underwater craft expert of many years’ standing, who Peter describes as the father of this technology.

“It costs more than 200,000 US dollars a day to use an advanced dive ship for this sort of application,” says Jan. “They’re putting thousands of nodes on the seabed, spaced at a few hundred meters distance. It takes weeks to place them and collect them again after the measurements are complete, so you can imagine how costly that is.”

This is Sabertooth

Available in single and double hull versions, Sabertooth is a very powerful but lightweight platform for inspection, maintenance and repair (IMR). Its small size, tether-free operation and manoeuvrability ensure easy and safe access inside and around complex structures, making it ideal for offshore survey work and autonomous IMR of subsea installations and tunnels.

Sabertooth offers deep water capability, long excursion range, advanced AUV functionality, six degrees of freedom and fully autonomous navigation.

“Time is money in this industry,” adds Peter. “Each second we gain adds up to millions of dollars saved.”

Sabertooth has also benefited from its high-profile role in locating Endurance, the legendary polar exploration ship that was lost off the coast of Antarctica for more than a century. The AUVs found the wreck after previous searches had failed.

“The exposure and feedback we got back from the operation was so helpful for showing how Sabertooth can work in this environment,” explains Peter.

“The planets aligned for us. First of all we found the wreck, which they hadn’t been able to locate before. Then, the wreck was in such amazingly good condition for the world to see.

“We also had a sensor package on the vehicle that helped us get good data up from the seabed. It showed the reliability of our system - its robustness, the technology, its readiness.

It may well have been a factor in PXGEO’s decision. They were certainly stunned when I showed them how it had been deployed.”

As Sabertooth’s reputation spreads, there is also growing interest from academia and renewable energy companies. Ocean science institutes can use the craft for seabed analysis, while offshore wind power companies need the technology to do underwater investigations for establishing the suitability of potential wind turbine sites. The system’s autonomy means applications are expanding all the time.

“Autonomy is key. If it wasn’t for that you couldn’t do what they need it to do,” says Jan Siesjö.

“It’s about extending the range and reducing the amount of people needed. Whereas remote underwater vehicles have bandwidth challenges, Sabertooth’s autonomy allows you to do more with less communication.

“When we started in 2008, people thought it was Star Wars stuff, but, as autonomy has developed and become mainstream, the industry is saying: ‘Why aren’t underwater vehicles as intelligent as my vehicle or vacuum cleaner?!’”

Saab has been ahead of its time as an early adopter of this technology, and now industries are catching up. The company is well placed now to develop it further, in response to the ever-expanding opportunities afforded by digitalization.

“It’s definitely not the end of the road in terms of product development,” says Peter Erkers.

“Machine learning and AI will play more of a role, and the next step will be to have resident systems that are underwater for a long time.”

“Machine learning and AI will play more of a role, and the next step will be to have resident systems that are underwater for a long time.”

“I think Sabertooth will be the first system to work in this way, and in fact we are already developing an underwater garage for it which will enable underwater charging and data transfers.”