Mollie Cahillane, Daily Mail
4 June 2018
UNITED KINGDOM -- The US Navy and researchers from Florida Atlantic University have revealed plans to develop autonomous robotic 'drone battleships' that can launch underwater and aerial attacks in order to protect US coasts.
Last month, FAU was awarded $1.25 million by US Navy for research for unmanned marine vehicle platforms.
The five-year project will undertake research in support of autonomous marine vehicle platforms for coastal surveillance, coastal surveys, target tracking and protection of at-sea assets.
'Our focus will be on developing a multi-vehicle system that can safely and reliably navigate coastal waters with a high level of autonomy while performing assigned tasks,' said Manhar Dhanak, director of SeaTech, the Institute for Ocean and Systems Engineering in FAU's Department of Ocean and Mechanical Engineering.
The researchers plan to develop new software to better improve multi-sensors and collision avoidance, as well as simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM).
The 'motherships' will also serve as a 'docking station' for submarines and aerial drones.
'Fostering collaborative partnerships in scientific research is essential to ensuring that the United States remains at the forefront of innovation and technology,' said Stella N. Batalama, Ph.D., dean of FAU's College of Engineering and Computer Science.
'We are very pleased to continue our relationship with the Office of Naval Research. This latest grant will enable us to develop important technology that will help to secure our U.S. coastal waters and our assets at-sea both nationally and globally.'
The ships will also function as training and education for graduate and undergraduate students in ocean engineering.
The US Navy hopes that similar protoypes will become more common.
Unmanned vehicles in the ocean and sub-surface are far less expensive to operate and maintain than manned vehicles.
Automated sensors can maintain near-constant awareness and coverage, and the constant surveillance provides better data collection. They also have the potential
to improve productivity, and most importantly, keep human sailors away from danger.
The Navy has also recently developed the Sea Hunter drone warship, a self-driving, 132ft drone warship that can hunt down enemy submarines and travel thousands of miles at sea while obeying maritime laws.
The prototype can reach speeds of 27 knots and uses cameras and radar to track its location and spot other ships.
The anti-submarine drone could join active naval operations as early as this year, ushering in a new era for military warships.
WHAT IS THE 'SEA HUNTER' WARSHIP?
The 132ft (40-metre) ship is designed to travel thousands of miles out at sea without a single crew member on board.
The anti-submarine warfare vessel could join active naval operations as early as 2018 and would hail in a new era of warship.
When it enters service, the ship will operate for around 30 to 90 days at sea without a crew.
Sea Hunter relies on radar and cameras to spot other vessels and will leave and return to port on its own.
Powered by two diesel engines, the ship can reach speeds of 27 knots per hour.
The 132ft (40-metre) ship is designed to travel thousands of miles out at sea without a single crew member on board
The vessel cost around $20 million (£14m) to build and around $20,000 (£14,000) a day to run which is significantly less expensive than crew-run ships.
While initial vessel tests require a pilot on board the ship, later tests are planned to have no personnel on board.
In initial testing of Sea Hunter's autonomy capability back in 2016, the ship successfully executed a multi-way-point mission with no person directing course or speed changes.
The completion of Sea Hunter's performance trials was the first milestone in the two-year test program co-sponsored by DARPA and the Office of Naval Research.
Experts say the vessel has the potential to revolutionise not only the military's maritime service but also commercial shipping.
The full-size prototype could pave the way to developing crewless cargo vessels for the commercial shipping industry someday.