Underwater robotics company agrees swarm-bot deal with US Navy

Underwater robotics company agrees swarm-bot deal with US Navy

NEWSBYTE Sydney-based underwater robotics company, Aquabotix, has signed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with the United States’ Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC).

The deal gives Aquabotix access to the US Navy’s Narragansett Bay test facility off Rhode Island, where demonstrations of the company’s SwarmDiver technology are expected to take place.

US Navy to explore potential of underwater swarms

Aquabotix’s SwarmDivers are small underwater UAVs capable of working en masse autonomously. The operator controls the swarm – or perhaps shoal – as a single entity, issuing commands for synchronised formations, data capture, and reconnaissance missions.

The underwater robots can be fitted with mission-specific sensor payloads for depth measuring, plume tracking, and 3D data gathering. They are deployed by hand and can be fished out of the water after returning to a given GPS location.

Although primarily designed to gather intelligence at sea, the sight of SwarmDivers gliding through the water will no doubt have US Navy officials wondering if and how such technology could be weaponised.

The move is the latest by the US military to automate often risky reconnaissance missions. Last week, it emerged that thermal imaging company FLIR is to provide American soldiers with miniature personal reconnaissance drones.

Military applications of AI and robotics have been in the headlines over the past few weeks, following Google’s recent internal battle over whether to continue supporting the Pentagon’s Project Maven.

Bowing to internal and external pressure, Google decided to exit the aerial intelligence AI programme – which it will do when the contract comes up for renewal next year – and committed to new, self-imposed ethical guidelines.

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Technology giants may hit controversy when working with the military, but for specialist companies such as Aquabotix, it’s a case of meeting the market’s demand for more sophisticated intelligence tools.

Whitney Million, Aquabotix’s CEO, said of the announcement, “We are honoured to be co-operating with the United States Navy and believe that SwarmDiver can be a game changer for the US and allied naval operations.”