U.S. Navy testing robotic tuna drone as aquatic spy
Boston Engineering’s GhostSwimmer UUV evaluated as potential surveillance vehicle.
“GhostSwimmer will allow the Navy to have success during more types of missions while keeping divers and sailors safe,” said Michael Rufo, director of Boston Engineering’s Advanced Systems Group.
Similar to its own BioSwimmer robot developed for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S.-based engineering firm designed GhostSwimmer to mimic the shape and swimming motion of a large fish. Both the BioSwimmer and GhostSwimmer are based on a tuna robot designed by a team of Olin College of Engineering students in 2009.
The robot combines features of a traditional submarine — including dive planes and a rigid forward hull — with the form and flexible tail of a fish. The mixture allows the tail section to turn and manoeuvre the vehicle quickly in water while keeping the front section of the robot relatively calm and steady for sensor data collection and surveillance work.
At 5 feet long and 100 pounds, the underwater drone can operate in water depths ranging from 10 inches to 300 feet and is capable of operating autonomously for extended periods thanks to its long-lasting battery. It can also be controlled by a laptop via a 500-foot tether that transmits commands and collected data while inspecting a ship’s hull. Off tether, the GhostSwimmer needs to re-surface occasionally to transmit data.
During this testing phase, the U.S. Navy says the GhostSwimmer has been collecting data on tides, currents, wakes and weather conditions at its Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story in recent weeks in preparation for the development of future tasks.