Eyes of the Fleet

Eyes of the Fleet

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Modern Science: Cooperative Swarmboats

Back in the day, port and harbor defense units were a cooperative venture between manned surveillance units (Mobile Inshore Undersea Warfare Units or MIUWUs) and manned boats - sometimes Coast Guard Port Security Units (PSUs), sometimes Navy Inshore Boat Units. While the manned boats have proven their worth, they do expose crews to the variety of dangers of both normal operations as well as risks posed by an aggressor.

Now this mission may be assigned to elements of the Naval Maritime Expeditionary Force. In any event, as as been noted here before, the Navy's Office of Naval Research has been pursuing the use of unmanned platforms to take on part of the water work and the capability seems to be getting smarter, as reported by ONI in "Autonomous Swarmboats: New Missions, Safe Harbors":
(Photo by John L. Williams)
Using a unique combination of software, radar and other sensors, officials from the Office of Naval Research (ONR)—together with partners from industry, academia and other government organizations—were able to get a “swarm” of rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIBs) and other small boats to collectively perform patrol missions autonomously, with only remote human supervision, rather than direct human operation, as they performed their missions.

“This demonstration showed some remarkable advances in autonomous capabilities,” said Cmdr. Luis Molina, military deputy for ONR’s Sea Warfare and Weapons Dept. “While previous work had focused on autonomous protection of high-value ships, this time we were focused on harbor approach defense.”

The autonomy technology being developed by ONR is called Control Architecture for Robotic Agent Command and Sensing, or CARACaS. The components that make up CARACaS (some are commercial off-the-shelf) are inexpensive compared to the costs of maintaining manned vessels for some of the dull, dirty or dangerous tasks—all of which can be found in the work of harbor approach defense, experts say.

“The U.S. Navy knows our most important asset, without question, is our highly trained military personnel,” said Dr. Robert Brizzolara, the program officer at ONR who oversees the effort. “The autonomy technology we are developing for our Sailors and Marines is versatile enough that it will assist them in performing many different missions, and it will help keep them safer.”
During the demo, unmanned boats were given a large area of open water to patrol. As an unknown vessel entered the area, the group of swarmboats collaboratively determined which patrol boat would quickly approach the unknown vessel, classify it as harmless or suspicious, and communicate with other swarmboats to assist in tracking and trailing the unknown vessel while others continued to patrol the area. During this time, the group of swarmboats provided status updates to a human supervisor.

“This technology allows unmanned Navy ships to overwhelm an adversary,” added Molina. “Its sensors and software enable swarming capability, giving naval warfighters a decisive edge.”

Naval leadership in recent years has emphasized a blended future force, leveraging the synergy of using manned and unmanned systems to complement each other while accomplishing missions. In the near future, unmanned boats can take on some dangerous missions, thereby protecting the warfighter, and they can do that in great numbers at a fraction of the cost of a single manned warship. Furthermore, these small boats are already in the Navy’s inventory (as manned craft) and can quickly and inexpensively be converted to an autonomous boat via the installation of a CARACaS kit.

Smart, safer for crews and not expensive. I would think of several iterations of this technology that would be major force multipliers. See U.S. Navy: Bring Out the Swarmbots!


And so 21st Century.

A 2015 article from ONR's Future Force sets it all up The Swarm: Autonomous Boats Take on Navy Missions.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous11:47 PM

    Same story from the engineering side of things: