US Office of Naval Research Showcases Totally Autonomous Patrol Boats

Autonomous drones have been here since 2009 at the least, and are actively used for a number of purposes by different users. We like autonomous drones for they apparently are the future of warfare, reconnaissance, surveillance, package delivery and all the other things futurists describe in their posts. So, all in all autonomous drones could someday be called a man’s best friend for all the services they would provide in the future, but then there’s the question of security which makes me wonder if our creations can be used against us by the other members of our race. I’ve been pondering about the same question ever since the US Navy announced today about its plans related to autonomous patrol boats, which they are calling Swarmboats.

The Swarmboats will be capable of protecting Navy ships, and, autonomously “swarm” offensively on hostile vessels, according to Office of Naval Research.

Before I dive deep into all the implications of such technology, its usability and the potential area USNavySwarmBoat1 where some shortcomings might arise, let’s watch a video posted by the Office of Naval Research over here.

To be honest, the video is cool, there’s no doubt about it. And the guy who voices the video does an excellent job in explaining and advertising this technological breakthrough.

ONR successfully demonstrated Swarmboat over two weeks in August on the James River in Virginia and is developing CARACaS (Control Architecture for Robotic Agent Command and Sensing), the technology which allows unmanned Navy vessels autonomous swarming.

CARACaS can be put into a transportable kit and installed on almost any boat. It allows boats to operate autonomously, without a Sailor physically needing to be at the controls—including operating in sync with other unmanned vessels; choosing their own routes; swarming to interdict enemy vessels; and escorting/protecting naval assets, according to the ONR press release, which could be found over here.

Although the Swarmboats will be totally autonomous, human involvement will be required during any kind of weapon use. Weapons fired from the USVs (Unmanned Surface Vehicles) would need to be initiated by a Sailor supervising the mission, adds the press release by ONR.

The CARACaS technology-based Swarmboats will no doubt be highly useful during confrontations with adversaries, such as pirates and some hostile nations, and of course, could prevent the loss of life up to a great degree, but at the same time, could also contribute to the life-taking endeavors of a number of armed forces around the world.

We know drones aren’t safe and can be taken over as proved by a number of researchers from time to time, and no matter how much you try to distinguish between CARACaS and our dear ol’ drones’ autonomous vulnerable technology, they are same in the essence. Can we really be sure that a technological superior adversary can never hijack this technological breakthrough?

Yes, I know that the States’ tech is decades ahead than most of the countries, but what about the homegrown smartasses who love to tinker with the establishment?

Anyway, Swarmboats really appear to be highly capable at this time, and ONR deserves full credit for their incredible work, but no matter how much I try to shake that image of hijacked Swarmboats being in possession of some ‘enemy of the State’ off my mind, I can’t succeed. Can you?


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