US Navy testing autonomous robot boats that can swarm and engage enemy forces

USV_robot boat_ONR

The above scene may seem like a routine patrolling exercise held in some large water body. But on closer inspection, you can actually make out that there are no people on any of those marine crafts. Well, there is a perfect explanation for the apparent trick – this was an exercise supervised by the U.S. Office of Naval Research (ONR), and all the boats were autonomously controlled by robots, not humans!

Better known as USVs (Unmanned Surface Vessels), these advanced crafts were tested on Virginia’s James River. The formations pertain to progressive tactics, with the robotic vehicles making their movements and progress from all sides in a coordinated manner. In fact, the testing phase started out with these USVs protecting a main ship. However, the defensive position rapidly gave way to an aggressive stance when the boats broke off from their escorting formation to swarm a possible intruder.

This sudden and impressive switch in tactical planning was entirely achieved by the robots’ own computational power. According to the US Navy, this was the result of the Control Architecture for Robotic Agent Command and Sensing (CARACaS) system that is used for the navigational capacity of the robot boats. And beyond just driving, the collective system was crucial for coordinating the different vehicles – that not only improved co-operation among themselves but also endowed them with situational awareness.

USV_robot boat_ONR_1

These systems were installed in various types of boats ranging from 7-ft length to 11-ft length. And the really interesting part is – the US Navy is practically looking forth to adopt such autonomous (yet cheap) military marine crafts in a bid to supplement their qualitative forces, while at the same time potentially reducing human-related casualties. On the other hand, the robot boats’ tactical ability will also allow them to engage enemy forces, thus adding to the overall firepower brought to the fray.

This is what Paul Scharre (from Center for a New American Security) had to say in the report of “Robotics on the Battlefield Part II: The Coming Swarm” –

Numbers may once again matter in warfare in a way they have not since World War II, when the U.S. and its allies overwhelmed the Axis powers through greater mass. Qualitative superiority will still be important, but may not be sufficient alone to guarantee victory. Uninhabited systems in particular have the potential to bring mass back to the fight in a significant way by enabling the development of swarms of low-cost platforms.

As for the robotic technology discussed here, the ONR researchers have also made their intentions clear – they hope to test such marine robot systems in more complex and surprising situations that go beyond the ambit of human-mind concocted scenarios.

Check the video to watch the advanced USVs in action –

Via: IEEE Spectrum

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