U.S. Navy gets serious about unmanned sea drones

Posted by Lydia Leavitt

The Navy is stepping up its development of unmanned vehicles designed to patrol the high seas.

From the robotic jet ski, to the unmanned "Harbor Wing" 60-foot ship, the Navy is currently designing new ways to identify threats and gather intelligence. The first step? To create an unmanned craft capable of remaining at sea for long periods of time.

Indeed, the Office of Naval Research recently launched its Large Displacement Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (LDUUV) program. If the U.S. military is able to create a functioning prototype they will attempt to create a "Navy platform sensing capability over the horizon and extend its influence."

Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughhead noted the importance of unmanned vehicles stating, "I need something I can keep out for weeks, that can move in strong ocean currents, that can close distances quickly."

Roughhead added that he would like to "extend the current capability of these vehicles from tens of hours to operability of the system for weeks to months."

The Navy wants the LDUUV to be a self-propelled craft, which will stay on the water for more than two months and "reach 40 prescribed waypoints within 6 hours of the approved plan and 50 [meters] of each waypoint."

Currently, unmanned ocean gliders are the only craft designed to stay at sea for long periods of time, propelling themselves using changes in buoyancy. To create a self-propelled craft rather than a glider, the ONR is researching "power reduction technologies" to reduce the "power of a core system while maintaining the current capability."

The ONR also put out a call for developers to help design the LDUUV's software and sensors, a system that is required to autonomously detect 99.9% of vessels located within two nautical miles. That includes boats and fishing lines, of which the Navy says "mono-filament and twine nets" are particularly hard to locate. 

(Via Wired Danger Room)