Designed for remote surveillance and high-speed reconnaissance, BAE Systems has successfully tested their fully automated, unmanned boat for the first time at a location near Portsmouth Naval Base. To help navigate the unmanned vessel a series of on-board sensors help it reach its destination and includes a 360-degree panoramic infrared camera and laser rangefinder to judge distances between objects. It then navigates using pre-planned routes or by remote control via an operator on the shore or aboard a Royal Navy warship.
Fitted to modified Rigid Inflatable Boats (or RIBs) the system currently has a range of around 40km although this could increase in the future with satellite-based communication. Main contractor BAE Systems created the drone boat in collaboration with autonomous specialists ASV who provided the system and software. Les Gregory, Product and Training Services Director at BAE Systems said;
This technology delivers an extremely robust and fast-moving unmanned boat that is able to perform a number of surveillance and reconnaissance roles, even when operating at high speed or in choppy water…While other programmes are primarily designed for larger, slower boats to tackle mine counter-measure scenarios, this system provides an extremely manoeuvrable multi-role vessel…[It has] the flexibility and sophistication to operate in a number of different tactical roles whether it’s patrolling areas of interest, providing surveillance and reconnaissance ahead of manned missions or protecting larger ships in the fleet.