Construction is nearly complete on DARPA’s crazy submarine-hunting drone

darpa to test submarine hunting ocean drones actucv2
DARPA
Right now, at an undisclosed industrial shipyard somewhere around Portland, Oregon, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (or, DARPA) is nearing completion of a 140-ton unmanned surface drone capable of hunting submarines in the open ocean. Officially dubbed the Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (or ACTUV for short), DARPA’s big project measures in at an astounding 132-feet in length, and is likely to operate at a fraction of the cost of regular warships. That’s right, a submarine-hunting autonomous drone is nearly ready to hit the high seas.

Once functional, DARPA intends to use the ACTUV to “robustly track quiet diesel electric submarines,” and expects it to serve three primary goals. First, the agency plans to test the effectiveness and efficiency of using an autonomous vessel in the field, hoping to avoid placing even one human on such a ship. Secondly, DARPA looks to display the range the ACTUV is capable of covering on missions while remaining autonomously compliant with maritime laws. And finally, it hopes to demonstrate the drone’s unique ability to track and follow even the quietest of submarines over long distances.

Artist rendition of the ACTUV
Artist rendition of the ACTUV DARPA

Perhaps the most intriguing part about the ACTUV is how adaptable its technology is, and the myriad of different applications it could have in other sectors of American’s armed forces. For instance, at a recent Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems conference, the agency pointed out how the U.S. Navy has already contacted the organization to inquire about using the drone for detecting mines. The technology that the ACTUV is founded on has an incredibly broad range of potential uses.

Additionally, DARPA estimates that use of the vessel would cost drastically less than that of a typical naval destroyer, operating on roughly $15k to $20k per day — compared to around $700k per day for a traditional warship. The agency also noted how the drone has the ability to carry a larger payload than conventional ship-launched surface vehicles, and also possesses the capacity to operate entirely on its own, launching and returning to a pier without any kind of human intervention. Because of this, a companion ship isn’t required, which saves even more time and money.

According to DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office program manager Scott Littlefield, roughly 90 percent of the vessel’s hardware construction is finished, leaving just the ship’s software system left to complete. During the course of manufacturing, the team routinely tested the ACTUV’s command-and-control and navigation system against the compliance requirements for the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea. By using a 40-foot workboat, DARPA had the ability to see how the system reacted on the fly.

“Generally we’re there,” Littlefield pointed out at the conference. “Generally meets expectations.”

While “generally” allows for DARPA to move on to the next phase of builder’s trials scheduled for early 2016, Littlefield acknowledges the hardest part of the project is manufacturing a drone which “is about as reliable as a vessel operated by experienced mariners.” Further testing of the ACTUV is set to run for around two years at San Diego’s Point Loma, and when all the software bugs have been ironed out, the ship will finally be ready for its maiden voyage.

Emerging Tech

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover passes its tests with flying colors

The Mars 2020 rover team has been undertaking a series of tests to see if the craft will be able to launch, navigate, and land on the Red Planet. Called Systems Test 1, or ST1, these tests represent the first test drive of the new rover.
Emerging Tech

A 3D printer the size of a small barn will produce entire homes in Saudi Arabia

If you’re looking for a 3D printer that can comfortably fit on the side of your desk… well, Danish company Cobod International’s enormous new 3D house printer probably isn’t for you.
Emerging Tech

Scientists use drone to map Icelandic cave in preparation for Mars exploration

Researchers from the SETI Institute and Astrobotic Technology have demonstrated a way that astronauts may be able to map Martian caves using a Lidar-equipped drone that can travel autonomously without GPS.
Cars

Nvidia’s new simulator brings virtual learning to autonomous vehicle developers

Nvidia introduced a simulator for testing autonomous vehicle technologies. Drive Constellation is a cloud-based platform technology vendors can use to validate systems efficiently, safely, and much faster than with vehicles on real roads.
Emerging Tech

China has cloned its best police dog. Now it wants to mass-produce more

Scientists in China have cloned the Sherlock Holmes of police sniffer dogs, with possible plans to mass produce it in the future. Here's why its creators think that's a great idea.
Deals

Need a ride? Amazon is slashing prices on popular electric scooters

If you’re not much of a cyclist or if you’re looking for a lazier way to zip about town, an electric scooter should be right up your alley. Two of our favorites, the foldable Glion Dolly and the eco-friendly Razor scooter, are on sale…
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Robotic companions and computer-aided karaoke

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it's fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

Unexpected particle plumes discovered jetting out of asteroid Bennu

The OSIRIS-REx craft traveled to asteroid Bennu last year and won't return until 2023. But the mission is already throwing up unexpected findings, like plumes of particles which are being ejected from the surface of the asteroid.
Emerging Tech

Trip to Neptune’s moon, Triton, could inform search for extraterrestrial life

NASA has proposed sending a craft to Neptune to study its largest moon, Triton. Studying Triton could offer clues to how liquid water is maintained on planets, which may indicate what to look for when searching for life beyond our planet.
Outdoors

Light up the night! Here are the five best headlamps money can buy

Headlamps make all the difference when camping or walking the dog at night, especially when you're in need of both hands. From Petzl to Tikkid, here are some of the best headlamps on the market.
Emerging Tech

A hive of activity: Using honeybees to measure urban pollution

According to a new study from Vancouver, bees could help us understand urban pollution. Scientists have found an innovative way to measure the level of source of pollution in urban environments: by analyzing honey.
Emerging Tech

Spacewalk a success as astronauts upgrade batteries on the ISS

The International Space Station was treated to some new batteries on Friday, thanks to two NASA astronauts who took a spacewalk for nearly seven hours in order to complete the upgrades.
Emerging Tech

Asteroid Ryugu is porous, shaped like a spinning top, and is formed of rubble

The Japanese Space Agency has been exploring a distant asteroid named Ryugu with its probe, Hayabusa 2. Now the first results from study of the asteroid are in, with three new papers published.
Emerging Tech

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a super-speedy pulsar

A super-speedy pulsar has been spotted dashing across the sky, discovered using NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope and the Very Large Array. The pulsar is traveling at a breathtaking 2.5 million miles an hour.