Thursday, October 09, 2014
A fleet of U.S. Navy boats approached an enemy vessel like sharks circling their prey.
Iin this case, part of an exercise conducted by the U.S. Office of Naval Research (ONR), the boats operated without any direct human control: they acted as a robot boat swarm.
The tests on Virginia’s James River this past summer represented the first large-scale military demonstration of a swarm of autonomous boats designed to overwhelm enemies. This capability points to a future where the U.S. Navy and other militaries may deploy underwater, surface, and flying robotic vehicles to defend themselves or attack a hostile force.
“What’s new about the James River test was having five USVs [unmanned surface vessels] operating together with no humans on board,” said Robert Brizzolara, an ONR program manager.
In the test, five robot boats practiced an escort mission that involved protecting a main ship against possible attackers. To command the boats, the Navy use a system called the Control Architecture for Robotic Agent Command and Sensing (CARACaS). The system not only steered the autonomous boats but also coordinated its actions with other vehicles—a larger group of manned and remotely-controlled vessels.