Monday, September 22, 2014


It's possible to come upon an unmanned surface vessel (USV) navigating anywhere in the world. Right now, fifteen student/professor engineering entries from five countries have sixteen foot WAM-V articulating catamarans that they are adding propulsion to for the upcoming Maritime RobotX Challenge in Singapore. There is a foundation dedicated to unmanned motorized water, air and land craft www.auvsifoundation.org. The US Navy is involved in some sponsorship via www.onr.navy.mil . But there is more to USV’s than science projects for University students.

The technology to manufacture unmanned sophisticated USV’s or water drones has existed for some time. It’s not a kids toy notion ... but rather a really useful tool for military and coast guard surveillance and intercept & attack capabilities - without risking human lives. Imagine the applications – patrolling for pirates off Somalia, intercepting unauthorized boats entering coastal waters with contraband, sending a USV into battle to attack specified targets, monitoring the coasts and inland waterways for environmental infractions, gathering research data in the oceans, on water rescue services in conditions that would otherwise endanger human lives ... and the list goes on.

With efficient electric propulsion systems and new battery technology combined with solar charging, moving a water drone long distances from A to B is a peace of cake. The vessels can be built virtually unsinkable and just like some of the new cars, they can know when they risk bumping into something and they have their own radar. GPS auto pilot satellite links can insure navigation to any part of the world including the ability to skirt bad weather systems. Constant downloading of intelligence data can come from both on-board systems and via satellite from remote human operators. Cameras provide a constant 360 degree view of the waterscape around the drone. The trickiest part of the technology is how to water proof a plethora of electronics travelling in variable conditions cruising very close to the water surface or under the water. Salt water, and the requirement for electronics cooling, compounds the problem. Does the whole thing sound far fetched? Experts say it’s already happening on the water and below the water.

Recently Aviation Week published an article on Large Displacement Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (LDUUV) confirming that the underwater drone technology is well established. The LDUUV is large and highly autonomous, carrying out missions at long distances for months. It acts as a mother ship, deploying and operating static and mobile sensors for surveillance in coastal waters. Soon they are likely to be armed. The LDUUV has a large payload making it capable of releasing sensors, communication buoys and smaller USV’s. The Navy’s emphasis is on persistent surveillance “over the horizon” however its most significant impact is in mine warfare, both offensive and defensive. Want more info on Naval drones click HERE

At some point it is not unreasonable to imagine a high speed drone responding to a May Day call targeting by EPIRB, AIS or reported position. So don’t be surprised that in the next five years or so you might be cruising along and you get a “sail past” by a drone checking you out. Kind of spooky isn’t it?

Posted by at 10:54 AM
Edited on: Wednesday, July 06, 2016 10:56 AM