While Boeing continues to work closely with NASA on technology fit for space travel, a recent press release shows the Chicago-based manufacturer also has its sights set on exploring the depths of Earth’s oceans — with a completely autonomous robotic submarine. Dubbed the Echo Voyager, Boeing’s unmanned undersea vehicle (UUV) bucks the trend of conventional underwater drones, lacking the requirement of a companion vessel or around the clock human support. Lance Towers, director of the division responsible for building the submarine, even goes so far as to call the Echo Voyager “awesome.” We can’t help but agree.
Developed by a company research arm known as Boeing Phantom Works, this innovative new sub is a marvel of modern engineering. Measuring at 51 feet long, the Echo Voyager joins an already impressive cast of Boeing’s UUV family alongside the 32-foot Echo Seeker and 18-foot Echo Ranger. Developed to undertake a variety of underwater missions such as payload deployment, infrastructure protection, or subsea search and reconnaissance, the Seeker and Ranger subs also possessed one critical flaw: Each only continuously operates underwater for mere days at a time while requiring the assistance of a surface ship. With the Voyager, Boeing found a way to dramatically overcome these caveats.
“What we came up with with Echo Voyager, was a way to do those same missions without the requirement of a surface ship for the launch and recovery,” Towers says in a video published by Boeing. “Any of those missions can now be conducted [at] a significantly lower cost with the advent of Echo Voyager.”
In addition to the Voyager lacking the need for a companion surface vessel, it blows the Seeker and Ranger out of the water in terms of operation time as it’s capable of navigating the ocean for up to six continuous months. To maintain the ability to operate like this, Boeing packed the sub lithium ion and silver zinc batteries which give it its necessary power for up to a few days. Where Voyager differs from typical UUVs is that it also touts a diesel generator which solely exists to charge the onboard batteries. When this is needed, the vessel begins running the diesel generator and rises to the surface to discharge the relative exhaust.
By utilizing this recharging method, the Voyager can reasonably travel up to 7,500 miles at a time once deployed. While out to sea, it then has the ability to send information and data to those on land by syncing with various satellites. Due to its range of potential applications, Boeing says it expects to see a mixture of interested parties in the fields of oil, underwater engineering, and science once it’s available commercially.
“Echo Voyager was not designed for one customer in mind,” Towers continues. “Think about how the 737 is a commercial airline but it’s also got a derivative for the PA program, this is the same thing. It’s a baseline vehicle that has the ability to carry a wide variety of payloads for a multiple sets of customers.”
Currently, Boeing is still running experiments with the Voyager in one of its research pools located in Huntington Beach, California. If all goes according to plan, the company says it will then conduct open-ocean testing off the coast of California this summer.
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