United States

The United States Navy Is Developing Mothership Drones for Coastal Defense

Written by Patrick Tucker

The U.S. Navy and researchers from Florida Atlantic University are developing robotic boats that can launch aerial and sub drones to protect U.S. coastal waters.

Our focus will be on developing a multi-vehicle system that can safely and reliably navigate coastal waters with a high level of autonomy while performing assigned tasks,” Manhar Dhanak, director of SeaTech, the Institute for Ocean and Systems Engineering in FAU’s Department of Ocean and Mechanical Engineering, said in a press release.

The FAU researchers will develop new software tools for better sensing and collision avoidance as well as to allow the ship  “to serve as a docking station” and power sub and air drones that latch onto it, according to a statement from the university. One aspect of the effort is developing software to help the surface vessel obtain a clear picture not just of obstacles to avoid but also friendly and hostile elements in the area, to help it better plan routes and paths for different missions.

It’s an example of the types of prototypes that will become more common, according to a Navy roadmap for the development and acquisition of autonomous systems. This Strategic Roadmap for Unmanned Systems, which began circulating around the Pentagon last year, has not yet been released. But a predecisional copy obtained by Defense One shows that the Navy is pushing to develop and buy its drones faster, integrate them more aggressively in exercises and other activity, and work more closely with universities and other non-traditional research partners particularly in the design of new prototypes.

The  Navy’s research into unmanned weapons goes back to World War I research into flying munitions and torpedos. The term “drone” was coined in the 1930s by Cmdr. Delmar Fahrney, who was in charge of Navy research into radio-controlled aircraft.

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About the author

Patrick Tucker

Patrick Tucker is technology editor for Defense One. He’s also the author of The Naked Future: What Happens in a World That Anticipates Your Every Move? (Current, 2014). Previously, Tucker was deputy editor for The Futurist for nine years. Tucker has written about emerging technology in Slate, The Sun, MIT Technology Review, Wilson Quarterly, The American Legion Magazine, BBC News Magazine, Utne Reader, and elsewhere.