Military Embedded Systems

ONR completes demonstration with swarm of autonomous unmanned boats


December 15, 2016

Mariana Iriarte

Technology Editor

Military Embedded Systems

ONR completes demonstration with swarm of autonomous unmanned boats
Photo by ONR

ARLINGTON, Va. Office of Naval Research (ONR) engineers completed a demonstration in the lower Chesapeake Bay using autonomous unmanned swarming boats with results that could potentially create new possibilities for autonomy in future naval missions.

With industry, academia, and other government organizations, ONR used a combination of software, radar, and other sensors to enable a swarm of rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIBs) with other small boats to collectively perform patrol missions autonomously. There was only remote human supervision as they performed their missions.

During the exercise, unmanned boats were given a large area of open water to patrol. As an unknown vessel entered the area, the group of swarmboats collaboratively determined which patrol boat would quickly approach the unknown vessel, classify it as harmless or suspicious, and communicate with other swarmboats to assist in tracking and trailing the unknown vessel while others continued to patrol the area. During this time, the group of swarmboats provided status updates to a human supervisor.

"This demonstration showed some remarkable advances in autonomous capabilities," says Cmdr. Luis Molina, military deputy for ONR's Sea Warfare and Weapons Dept. "While previous work had focused on autonomous protection of high-value ships, this time we were focused on harbor approach defense. This technology allows unmanned Navy ships to overwhelm an adversary. Its sensors and software enable swarming capability, giving naval warfighters a decisive edge."

"The U.S. Navy knows our most important asset, without question, is our highly trained military personnel," says Dr. Robert Brizzolara, the program officer at ONR who oversees the effort. "The autonomy technology we are developing for our Sailors and Marines is versatile enough that it will assist them in performing many different missions, and it will help keep them safer."

ONR engineers developed the Control Architecture for Robotic Agent Command and Sensing (CARACaS) technology with some commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) components that is being used in this demonstration.

For more on the demonstration, check out this video courtesy of ONR:


Read more on unmanned systems:

MQ-1C Gray Eagle Extended Range (ER) series from GA-ASI begins flight testing

DARPA plans to develop unmanned swarm tactics in new OFFSET program

Boeing expands autonomous capabilities with Liquid Robotics acquisition