Saab Was The First Carmaker To Prove Autonomous EVs Worked

The Saabmarine in action.
Photo: Esther Horvath / Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust

Remember Saab? It was a Swedish carmaker that built some astonishing vehicles over the years. The 9-5 Aero took the fight to the best from Germany, and the 99 Turbo is a legit dream car for me. After wowing buyers with its Scandi styling and turbocharged engines, the firm has now made a pivot to building autonomous EVs.

Founded in the 1930s, Saab cut its teeth building combat aircraft for the Swedish airforce. The firm also created anti-tank weapons and submarines.

Its first car rolled onto the scene in 1949, and Saab then treated us to more than 60 years of automotive awesomeness. But sadly, a run in with GM and fellow Swedish carmaker Spyker preceded the firm’s demise as a carmaker. And unfortunately, its automaking arm filed for bankruptcy in December 2011.

Saab sabertooth shines spotlight on Shackleton’s sunken ship.
Photo: Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust

So as we’re about 90 percent sure that Saab isn’t making cars anymore, it isn’t a four-wheeled creation that’s the titular autonomous EV in this story. Instead, it’s a research submarine.

Specifically, it’s the Saab Sabertooth underwater vehicle. And we’re interested in it because two of these nifty little robots helped uncover the lost ship of Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton recently.

The Sabertooth is one of four underwater EVs that Saab currently produces. As well as a hot of scary looking military paraphernalia.

Rated to a depth of up to 3,000 meters (9,800ft) of sea water (MSW), the sub packs is quite the creation. On board, it packs in cameras, sonar and HV tooling equipment for all your underwater research needs.

Created for inspection, maintenance and repair tasks, the sub weighs 1,300kg (2,800lb) and has a 30 kWh battery pack that can help power it to a max speed of four knots. That’s about 4.6 mph.

Saab says the subs also proved an ideal vehicle for the team searching for Shackleton’s ship as the machines can could cope with the freezing temperatures of Antarctica’s waters.

More like Saabertooth, am I right?
Photo: Esther Horvath / Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust

The subs also have some autonomous driving sailing swimming capabilities.

This includes built in route planning software and compatibility with third-party self-driving programs. The Sabertooth can also be manually controlled via a fiber optic tether to the surface.

During their deep-sea missions to locate the ship, which sunk beneath the waves more than 100 years ago, scientists deployed two Saab Sabercat subs.

The submarines were used to create video and geological data, as well as photos of the sunken ship.

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Owen Bellwood