GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - The Advanced Naval Technology Exercise took place, and the theme for the day was preparing for battle.
Companies and academic groups from across the country brought needs-based tech to show off their ability to perform pre-wartime research. They presented unmanned and autonomous vehicles to scan the surface of the water and the ocean floor. This tech will provide a clear picture so the U.S. military knows what to expect if and when there is a war.
“We need to know the environment before we approach the battlefield at any time. You can’t do it whenever the fighting starts. You need to have it in advance as much as possible," said FNMOC Physical Scientist Nathan Allen. “A lot of the systems that we have here are both autonomous and have great communications ranges. So this allows us to collect and sort the data without putting our personnel in harm’s way."
The tech expo, if you will, introduced a host of needs-based solutions to help foster a safer space for today’s research. Sean Newsome brought the SubSeaSail. It’s an unmanned sailing vessel with the hull below the waterline. Newsome is Sub Sea Sail’s Director of Business Development. Their vessel is not bound by power or distance.
“As long as we have wind and we have sun, we’re on our way. Our duration is indefinite. We’re really not sure what our durations are just yet," Newsome said.
That is helpful because this vessel can become a communications hub for other underwater vehicles in lieu of manned ships.
“Rather than take a ship with a bunch of people on it and put them into a hazardous zone, I could sail that unmanned system maybe a few hundred kilometers and release it. Now we’ve saved taxpayers dollars and made for a very safe mission as well," Newsome said.
How does the Navy know if that underwater area is safe? Chris Coward of Naval Oceanography has partnered with Kraken Robotics to collect data on man-made contacts on the ocean floor.
“What we’re trying to do is catalog those during peace times so that if there were a wartime effort applied we can go and say, ‘we know that these were here previously and anything beyond that is stuff that we need to investigate,’" Coward told WLOX.
AquaBotix is taking that technology a step further with the ability to scour and report back findings in surf zone waters.
“Pulling people out of the water, getting operators to a safer operational standoff distance and letting robots do it in their place; it’s faster, cheaper and much safer," said AquaBotix CEO Whitney Million.
The University of Houston was also at the expo to show off their biodegradable tech.
“Our drift nodes are low-cost nodes that are full of sensor information that are tossed out of a boat and drift out into the current," said Assistant Professor Aaron Becker. “They have a triggered self-destruct sequence that will cause them to dissipate in seawater," Becker said. “These nodes will give us the opportunity to survey denied (under heavy surveillance) environments. The nodes relay information wirelessly to a mother-ship and then can melt away without adverse effects."
Safe, autonomous operations is the name of the game in today’s world of underwater pre-war security.