On Monday, the Pentagon revealed the world’s biggest unmanned vessel, a 132-foot ship that can travel up to 10,000 nautical miles on its own to track down underwater mines and submarines.
The Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the military’s research branch, and the U.S. Navy will be putting the ship through its paces over the next two years off the San Diego coast. The tests will allow researchers to see how it interacts with other ships and avoids collisions. Unlike many smaller remote-controlled vessels that are launched from ships, the Sea Hunter can operate on its own.
Jared B. Adams, the spokesperson for DARPA, said: “it’s not a joy-stick ship.” Instead, it relies on sonar, radar, onboard cameras and a global positioning system. Unmanned ships like this will assist with missions and help keep our service members out of harm’s way.
Military leaders won’t be the only ones keeping an eye on the ship’s performance. Many of the world’s maritime companies from the commercial shipping industry will also be watching as they have been looking into developing fleets of unmanned ships to reduce operating costs and travel safely through more dangerous areas.
The ship will have human operators on board during the testing phase to ensure all goes well. But it will maneuver itself once it’s shown to be reliable. With its twin diesel engines, the ship could go out to sea for months at a time and travel as far as San Diego to Guam.
The Sea Hunter was built off the coast of Oregon and traveled to San Diego’s coastline on a barge. Developing the ship cost about $120 million although DARPA officials believe that more vessels can be produced for about $13 million.
There is some debate in the commercial sector regarding whether it’s possible to make robotic boats safe enough for use. The International Transport Workers’ Federation, the union that represents more than half the world’s million plus seafarers, has stated it doesn’t think that technology will ever be able to replace humans and adequately foresee and react to the dangers faced at sea.
Others have voiced concerns about hackers being about to take control of unmanned ships. However, military officials have been working on hacker protection and believe it’s possible to make ships hacker-proof.
Trish is a freelance writer/editor and has been writing in the technical field for the past 5 years. She particularly enjoys keeping her fingers on the pulse and learning about new technologies as they are developed.