Navy tests unmanned 'swarmboats' to patrol ports

Securing a port can be the type of job that hits the three Ds: dull, dirty, and dangerous.

Often, those charged with that security operate using rigid-hull inflatable boats or other small craft – often in proximity to huge vessels like Nimitz-class carriers or large amphibious assault ships.

One wrong move, and Sailors or Coast Guardsmen can end up injured – or worse.

However, the Navy may be able to reduce the risk to life and limb, thanks to a project by the Office of Naval Research called Control Architecture for Robotic Agent Command and Sensing, or “CARACaS.”

With CARACaS, a number of RHIBs or small craft can be monitored remotely, thus removing the need to put personnel at risk.

An unmanned rigid-hull inflatable boat operates autonomously during an Office of Naval Research (ONR)-sponsored demonstration of swarmboat technology held at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story. During the demonstration four boats, using an ONR-sponsored system called CARACaS (Control Architecture for Robotic Agent Command Sensing), operated autonomously during various scenarios designed to identify, trail or track a target of interest. (U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams/Released)

An unmanned rigid-hull inflatable boat operates autonomously during an Office of Naval Research (ONR)-sponsored demonstration of swarmboat technology held at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story. During the demonstration four boats, using an ONR-sponsored system called CARACaS (Control Architecture for Robotic Agent Command Sensing), operated autonomously during various scenarios designed to identify, trail or track a target of interest. (U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams/Released)

According to a U.S. Navy release, these “unmanned swarming boats” or USBs, recently carried out a demonstration in the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, where they were able to collaborate to determine which one would approach a vessel, classify it, and then track or trail the vessel.

The USBs also provided status updates to personnel who monitored their activity.

“This technology allows unmanned Navy ships to overwhelm an adversary,” Cdr. Luis Molina of the Office of Naval Research said. “Its sensors and software enable swarming capability, giving naval warfighters a decisive edge.”

A 2014 demonstration primarily focused on escorting high-value ships in and out of a harbor, but this year, Molina noted that this year, the focus was on defending the approach to a harbor.

The biggest advantage of CARACaS? You don’t need to build new craft – it is a kit that can be installed on existing RHIBs and small boats.

Check out this video of CARACaS-equipped USBs:

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