Monday, August 20, 2012

Drones at Sea: Unmanned vessels on our oceans

We all know about drones in the sky because we've seen footage of military drones like the Predator and Reaper.  And we've seen police use bomb disposal robots on land, but how about drones at sea?

I'd never given it much thought, but drones may be a good solution on the water (or under it) for the same reasons they're helpful in the air or on land.  When the task is risky due to weather or environment, or dangerous because of enemies, or simply tedious and expensive, drones are sometimes the solution.

The US and Israeli navies both use drones in the form of small boats equipped with sensors and weapons.  Piloted from shore or a nearby ship, these small boats can operate in dangerous weather and approach pirates, drug runners, and terrorist vessels without endangering a human crew.

The Protei project is a completely different approach (see picture above).  Protei is an open-source, sailing drone that's in development.  The idea is to use these drones to clean the oceans of oil spills and floating garbage.  The drones could also be used for science:  monitor algae blooms, study coral reefs and fisheries, and take data on water temperature and weather.  There are so many applications possible.

Protei goals are ambitious.  According to their site, they want the boats to be:  unsinkable, self-righting, safe, unmanned, autonomous, green, affordable and able to act in swarms.  The swarm behavior is especially interesting because the developers have planned a series of steps where the drones move from being controlled by a human operator to working autonomously, alone or in groups.  They even have the neat idea of letting people control drones using smart phones, and play a game of ocean clean up.

Personally, I wonder if drone lifeguards might be possible.  Something about the size of a jet ski, with handles to grab onto, and maybe even an arm that could pluck a drowning person out of the water.

Someday you may be out fishing and see a boat pass you in the fog and realize there's no one on board.  But it's not a ghost ship.  It's a drone.

(Here are two links to The Unmarked Van, where you can find articles about US and Israeli naval drones.  Here's the Protei site.  In a weird bit of interconnectivity, Protei is a Kickstarter project, and the guy who formed Protei (Cesar Harada) gave a TED talk--two things we've talked about here recently at Chimpwithpencil.  Yup.  Everything is connected.)

(The pic is from the Protei site.)

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