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The Navy is building robotic weaponized boats

Sharon Gaudin | Oct. 7, 2014
A team of the unmanned boats can swarm enemies, protecting ships, ports and oil rigs.

The information is shared over a network radio link at this point, though Brizzolara said the Navy has more secure information networks and will put one in place before the system is put into official use.

"The boat system needs to plan its own route," Brizzolara explained, noting that he cannot divulge exactly what speeds the unmanned boats reach. "We have developed a much faster route planner for the boat that works in close to real time to process those routes at speeds appropriate to what boats of that size should be doing."

He added that the Navy has built various military tactics into the autonomous software, using AI to enable the boats to, on the fly, designate a target, block it, encircle it and engage it if need be. The boats also could trail each other or a ship; go into escort mode; or line up in a blocking behavior.

"The key is its flexibility to execute any number of behaviors, not just swarming," said Brizzolara. "We would like, from a science and technology point of view, for CARACaS to be as widely applicable as possible. The fact that it can be programmed to undertake a number of different behaviors means it could take on a wider range of missions."

Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group, said the power of the CARACaS system lies in its complex combination of technologies able to work together.

"These are definitely more sophisticated than the vast majority of robots we've seen to date," he said. "The programmed behavior with all the actors moving in concert is a big advance, particularly when considering all of the variables they will have to contend with, like ocean waves, winds and rain."

Using an array of sensors and radar, the system is able to process all of the inputs, like imaging, conditions, mission and the actions of others. "That," said Olds, "is a big deal. When taken together, this is a big step for robotics."

The autonomy system can be installed in any small Naval vessel. The boats themselves do not need to be specially built.

"We've designed team behaviors into the system," said Brizzolara. "It's a system developed to replicate functions that a boat driver would normally do.'

Moorhead noted that before CARACaS, a lot of military robotics had limited ability to work cooperatively with each other and limited object recognition.

"It's difficult to get multiple robots to work together because they need to be aware of the entire system of robots, instead of just their surroundings," he said. "This raises the challenge exponentially."

Robotic deterrence and firepower
The boats are equipped with non-lethal weapons such as sound cannons and bright lights designed to confuse or disorient enemies. If needed, the boats can fire upon and destroy an enemy boat.


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