Us Navy's Sail Robot Sent Out To Sea

From the Navy Times:

A sleek vessel with a triple hull and 6-story-tall mast will leave San Diego Bay this fall for the open waters of the Pacific Ocean in a show of the potential of unmanned watercraft.

The craft will be the latest prototype of the first “Harbor Wing,” which has plied the waters off Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, for several years as a concept vehicle for an autonomous unmanned surface vessel. This unmanned boat is like a seagoing robot that provides the eyes and ears — and information and intelligence — without the need for humans aboard.

“I’ve removed the sailor from the sailing,” said Mark Ott, executive vice president of Harbor Wing Technologies Inc., who built the first prototype with a catamaran he bought for $12,000 to fill a Navy need for unmanned surface vessels.

With a composite mast mirroring the famous “sail wing” that gives America’s Cup contenders their speed, and an all-electric engine for backup, Harbor Wing is designed as a fast and modular sailing platform outfitted with radar, sonar, cameras, navigation and a collision-avoidance system. It also will house advanced network communications and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems.

The vessel is controlled by radios and a commercial global positioning satellite system that Ott said allows it to sail “within three meters of accuracy.” It could be used for missions including coastal surveillance, counterdrug, interception operations and patrols for the Navy and Coast Guard, company officials say.

Although Harbor Wing will operate without a captain and crew by sailing on a pre-programmed course, “the man is always in the loop,” Ott said. An operator, seated at a computer that could be hundreds of miles away, can control the craft with keystrokes that relay commands via satellite. The transmission gap, from order to receipt, is only 18 seconds, which “on the open ocean is not much,” he said, “so you have very close control.”

While unmanned, Harbor Wing won’t necessarily be a sitting duck if it enters a more hostile environment.

“It will have a multilayered self-defense capability,” said Ott, noting possible systems like sound, noxious gases and lasers to thwart threats and prevent someone from commandeering the craft.

“The boat can also be told, it’s time to run,” he said, and it can reach 15 knots under sail or 30 knots with the engine running. The triple-hull, hydrofoil design planned for the third vessel, X-3, will serve as “great, big shock absorbers” and give the vessel greater sea legs, he added, enabling it to operate up to Sea State 5 — that’s 6-foot waves and moderate winds — and survive in rougher waters up to Sea State 8, or 18-foot waves, without upending itself.

The full story is here.

.