John Nassivera / HNGN.com & Brad Lendon / CNN – 2014-10-07 23:30:37
‘Swarm’ of Robot Boats Designed to Protect US Navy’s Ships Against Enemy Vessels
John Nassivera / HNGN.com
(October 7, 2014) — The US Navy is currently working on a new tool for protecting its ships, which is a “swarm” of robotic boats.
The Office of Naval Research (ONR) conducted tests in August on “drone” boats designed to swarm ships that are a threat to the Navy’s vessels, according to CNN. A video was recently released showing the boats surrounding a vessel, with the service saying: “The US Navy is unleashing a new era in advanced ship protection.”
The Navy uses its Control Architecture for Robotic Agent Command and Sensing (CARACaS) to control the boats. CARACaS comes as a sensor combined with a software kit, and can be transferred among small ships. The video shows a fleet of over a dozen unmanned boats moving along the James River in Virginia and organizing themselves to protect a Navy research vessel.
These robot boats provide the potential for the US and other countries to defend themselves and attack enemies with robotic technology that operates underwater, on land, or in the air, Discovery News reported.
“What’s new about the James River test was having five USVs [unmanned surface vessels] operating together with no humans on board,” said Robert Brizzolara, program manager for the ONR.
One of the boats’ developers compared them to “guard dogs” that would surround a warship and find threats before they can strike. Thanks to their software, the boats can also pick the route for each of them to confront vessels, which gives them the ability to think for themselves, CNN reported.
The Navy believes the boats have a range of potential uses, such as protecting ports in the US as well as preventing situations like the terrorist attack on the destroyer USS Cole in Yemen, which took place 14 years ago and resulted in the death of 17 American sailors. These attacks could be prevented without risking the lives of US sailors.
“While the attack on Cole was not the only motivation for developing autonomous swarm capability, it certainly is front and center in our minds, and hearts,” said Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder, chief of naval research. “If Cole had been supported by autonomous USVs, they could have stopped that attack long before it got close to our brave men and women on board.”
There is currently no set due date for when the Navy plans to begin using the robot swarms, as the ONR is looking to make improvements to the boats’ autonomous system and navigation beforehand, Discovery News reported. These improvements include having the boats use different sensing technologies to “see” objects around them, as well as making them able to move autonomously around vehicles in different situations.
However, human sailors will still have control over whether the boats should fire against enemy vessels.
The success of the ONR’s test with the boats presents a great possibility for the swarms to be in use soon, CNN reported. ONR spokesman Peter Vietti said on Monday that the Navy could begin operational tests for the boats within the next year.
US Navy Could ‘Swarm’ Foes with Robot Boats
Brad Lendon / CNN
(October 7, 2014) — The Office of Naval Research over the weekend released video of tests conducted in August that showed five “drone” boats swarming a vessel that posed a threat to a Navy ship.
“The US Navy is unleashing a new era in advanced ship protection,” the service says in the video.
Controlled by what the Navy calls Control Architecture for Robotic Agent Command and Sensing (CARACaS), a sensor and software kit that is transferable among small vessels, a fleet of more than a dozen small unmanned boats cruise along the James River in Virginia, setting up a protective screen on a Navy research ship.
When a threatening vessel is detected, five boats break off to confront it.
“If I was the actual target it would be pretty intimidating to see five boats rushing at me,” Sam Calabrese, pilot of the “bad guy” vessel, said in the Navy video.
One developer likened the robot boats to “guard dogs” that could swim around a warship and detect threats before they come within striking range. And like dogs, the robot boats actually think for themselves, with their software choosing the best route for each boat to confront a threatening vessel.
The drone boats could be armed to fire on adversaries, but fire control would come from a sailor on an accompanying warship.
The system also allows the Navy to save money because no special boats have to be built to deploy it. The boats used in the August demonstration came from inventory now carried on Navy warships, the Navy video said.
“Any boat can be fitted with a kit that allows it to operate autonomously and together swarm on any threat,” the video says.
The CARACaS software was originally designed for NASA’s Mars rovers, the Navy video says, and adapted for use by small boats.
The Navy released the video just a week before the 14th anniversary of the terrorist attack on the destroyer USS Cole in Yemen that killed 17 American sailors. The Cole was attack by a small boat packed with explosives which blew a 40-foot-by-60-foot hole in the side of the destroyer when detonated.
It’s the kind of attack Navy officials think a swarm of unmanned surface vessels, or USVs, could prevent without putting any sailors in harm’s way.
“While the attack on Cole was not the only motivation for developing autonomous swarm capability, it certainly is front and center in our minds, and hearts,” Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder, chief of naval research, said in a statement. “If Cole had been supported by autonomous USVs, they could have stopped that attack long before it got close to our brave men and women on board.”
The Navy release says swarmboat capabilities could also play a role in protecting US ports. The US Coast Guard was part of the tests the Navy carried out in August.
With the success of the August tests, the system could soon be in use within the Navy’s fleet.
“We believe we will be able to deliver this to the fleet for operational testing within one year,” Peter Vietti, spokesman for the Office of Naval Research, said Monday.
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