Here's a video of the launch and speed trials of DARPA’s Sea Hunter, a full-scale prototype of an autonomous surface vessel that’s designed to be able to launch from a pier and go out on its own for weeks or months at a time, for thousands of miles at a stretch.
The 132-foot-long, diesel-powered vessel was built by U.S. defense contractor Leidos under DARPA’s ACTUV program, a somewhat clunky nested acronym that stands for Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel.
The ship, now a joint project with the U.S. Office of Naval Research, was originally conceived as a tracker of stealthy diesel-electric submarines, but it’s a flexible platform. “What we’ve kind of realized over the course of the program is that it’s a truck,” program manager Scott Littlefield tells IEEE Spectrum. “It’s got lots of payload capacity for a variety of different missions.”
Sea Hunter, which is currently in Portland, Ore., will soon be shipped south to San Diego, Calif. When it arrives in May, Littlefield says, engineers will be ramping up testing of its autonomous functions. The vessel is slated for two years of testing in San Diego, he says. During that time, DARPA will hand the vessel off to the Office of Naval Research.
Sea Hunter uses radar and an automatic ship identification system to keep track of its surroundings. The ACTUV research team is also exploring using cameras to help with visual classification of vessels, since rules vary with vessel type.