Friday, October 24, 2014

Little drone ships to protect navy destroyers

Navy ships are most vulnerable when thy resupply in port or navigate narrow passages since they’re tricky to maneuver in tight quarters and vulnerable to attack. This was the case when the USS Cole was attacked as it refueled in Yemen, an act that killed 17 American sailors and underlined the need to protect warships in port.

Typically, smaller boats have been used to counter these types of attacks, deploying a close quarters defense.

In order to take sailors out of the line of fire, the Office of Naval Research is developing autonomous technology for small "swarmboats" to be used for risky jobs.

The technology involved, called Control Architecture for Robotic Agent Command and Sensing, is essentially an autopilot on steroids that can be installed on almost any boat. During a test in August in Newport News, Virginia, Navy researchers used 13 rigid-hulled inflatable boats equipped with the technology to escort a "high-value" ship and swarm an "enemy" vessel.

The boats decide where to go, when to steer, and when to apply the throttle. A human operator, who can be well away from the action, uses a laptop to tell the swarmboats the craft to be protected and those that are to be attacked.

The Navy didn’t disclose how the technology works, but it appears similar to what is used in other autonomous vehicles, including passenger cars. Hardware turns the wheel, adjusts the throttle, and so forth, while computers and radar detect other boats and decide where to go and what to do.

"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."

For more of the Wired story:

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