Much has been written about the future of drones and how they have already disrupted dozens of industries thanks to their abilities in the air. Now, those abilities will be on display underwater. According to a recent story in the Los Angeles Times, a new 51-foot-long drone will begin sea trials off the coast of California.
The drone, a Boeing Echo Voyager, will have no crew and will glide underwater for days or weeks, gathering data from the ocean floor to send back to crews on ships or dry land. The Voyager is “designed to carry out months-long surveillance and reconnaissance missions for defense, commercial, and scientific customers.”
The Voyager is powered by a hybrid electric-battery/marine diesel system and periodically surfaces to snorkel depth to recharge its batteries by raising a mast and running the diesel engines. At this time, the Voyager can also connect to satellite operations to transmit data to operators, according to the article. While submerged, the drone can only send limited communications to a nearby ship.
For endurance purposes, the drone is equipped with backup systems and to give it autonomy, its navigation system “incorporates motion and rotation sensors, as well as sonar to avoid obstacles.”
To gather intelligence on enemies, detect and neutralize mines, hunt submarines, and chart the ocean floor, the U.S. Navy has proposed over $300 million for the development and purchase of underwater drones in the president’s budget for the coming fiscal year, according to the article.
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