Think of it as a Google Self-driving car, but that's 130-feet long and built for hunting submarines. And it got one step closer to real operations this week. The Navy has a new ship in the works, but this one is slated to be manned by 100 percent fewer sailors.
The Sea Hunter was christened Thursday, and the capabilities are prettyincredible: It's beingdesigned to operate at sea for months at a time, travel thousands of miles, all while follow navigation rules and and is programmed to follow international rules of navigation and avoiding collisions.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Office of Naval Research are getting ready to take their new toy for a spin in the open ocean. The 130 -foot trimaran is designed with a ton of advanced features that the Navy envisions it can use for hunting subs and mines, but could just as easily be used for surveillance.
Known as the Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (or ACTUV), the ship boasts a virtual deck department to steer the ship and stand lookout, the release said — with virtual junior officers to stand officer of the deck to boot.
"Through at-sea testing on a surrogate vessel, ACTUV's autonomy suite has proven capable of operating the ship in compliance with maritime laws and conventions for safe navigation — including International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, or COLREGS," the release said. "ACTUV accomplishes this feat through advanced software and hardware that serve as automated lookouts, enabling the ship to operate safely near manned maritime vessels in all weather and traffic conditions, day or night."
But the Sea Hunter won't be working sailors completely out of a job, said the project head.
"Although ACTUV will sail unmanned, its story is entirely about people," said Scott Littlefield, DARPA program manager. "It will still be Sailors who are deciding how, when and where to use this new capability and the technology that has made it possible. And we could not have overcome the massive technical challenges to reaching this point without the creative, committed teamwork of our commercial partners and the Office of Naval Research."
The ship is moving from Oregon to San Diego, where DARPA and ONR plan to test it. If all goes according to plan, the program will transfer to the Navy in 2018, the release said.
Check out this video of Sea Hunter underway: