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Intelligence Gathering With Surface Drones Is Becoming Much More Commonplace

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Intelligence Gathering With Surface Drones Is Becoming Much More Commonplace

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An unmanned surface vessel (USV) washed up on the Isle of Tiree in Scotland, near the UK’s nuclear submarine base.

This Isle of Tiree is about a hundred miles from HMNB Clyde, the operating base for for the UK’s fleet of nuclear submarines.

The local HM Coastguard Rescue Team shared photos on their Facebook page asking for information.

It turned out to be the surface element of a Wave Glider made by U.S. company Liquid Robotics.

A week has passed and nobody has yet claimed the vessel.

As Forbes’ David Hambling reports, the Wave Glider is one of a new generation of autonomous boats which stay at sea indefinitely and carry out missions lasting weeks or months.

It is powered by solar panels and it has an underwater, submarine element that moves it. This will run aground and cease working in water less than about twenty feet deep.

The biggest users of Wave Gliders are the military, with the U.S. Navy in particular exploring their potential for intelligence gathering.

Wave Glider fitted with a complex antenna array was recently spotting off Florida – this turned to be part of a secretive government project monitoring illicit activity in the area.

Britain’s Royal Navy has also experimented with Wave Gliders. In 2016 four Wave Gliders carrying the Sensor Hosting Autonomous Remote Craft (SHARC) sonar package were deployed as part of the Royal Navy’s Unmanned Warrior demonstration.

It is a very low-speed unit, which is its biggest setback. The rival Bluebottle unmanned surface vessel also has a sail and can make five knots and, according to maker Ocius Technology, can easily get in and out of fast currents.

Due to its low speed it could get stuck in a current and wash ashore, as it is likely what happened.

Wave Gliders are able to travel long distances. In 2012, one completed a journey of more than 10,000 miles across the Pacific from San Francisco to Australia.

In theory, the one that landed in Scotland could have come from anywhere.

Wave Gliders have satellite communication and usually maintain regular contact with a shore-based operator.

With each unit costing an estimated $250k-$300k excluding the sonar and other sensors, and some Wave Gliders carrying highly classified gear, it should not be left on a Scottish island and there may be serious questions about how this accident occurred.

It is believed that the US Navy operates this specific one, but there’s no confirmation.

“The Wave Glider is designed to support a wide range of sensors and payloads. The modular and adaptable payload design, coupled with a powerful solar energy system and on-board compute environment, allows our partners to develop and deliver unique solutions to customers. More importantly, it allows customers to scale a proven application across many Wave Gliders quickly,” Liquid Robotics describes.

Wave Glider Specifications

  • Water Speed: Typical 1.3kts
  • Endurance: Up to 1 year (varies based on operating conditions and location)
  • Operating Water Depth: > 15m
  • Station Keeping: 30m radius
  • Payload Capacity: 7 modular bays (93L)
  • Tow Capability: 500kg (drag dependent)
  • Average Continuous Power: 5W – 20W
  • Max Solar Collection: 192W (nominal)
  • Battery Capacity: 0.9kWh – 6.8kWh rechargeable
  • Communications: Satellite, Cell, Wi-Fi

The Wave Glider USV can operate individually or in fleets to deliver real-time data and act as a data communications relay for as long as one year with no fuel.

Wave Glider instruments, working together, can provide fleets of networked wave-powered ocean robots for military, oil and gas, commercial, and science applications.

Key to the Wave Glider is its’ ability to harvest energy from ocean waves to provide essentially limitless propulsion to provide persistent surveillance at sea. Wave Gliders run on wave and solar energy for propulsion, communications, navigation, and computing.

This incident is evidence that these sorts of vessels are likely to become much more common, especially at their low price, after all, days after it washed up ashore, nobody has claimed it and shown interest in it, rather than it becoming a sort of tourist attraction.

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