Thursday, December 12th, 2019

Aircraft giant announces submersible drone

Published on April 15, 2016 by   ·   No Comments


If you’ve ever travelled anywhere, chances are you’ll be well acquainted with Boeing.  The aerospace giant’s planes include the iconic 747 and the world’s best selling airliner, the 737, but the Company also has fingers in a lot of other pies.  In addition to satellites and defence, it turns out that one of its other areas of expertise is submersibles, and Boeing’s latest announcement is an autonomous submarine that, it says, will be a game-changer.

Boeing has more than 50 years submarine experience, and has had a remote-controlled submersible program for several years.  In 2001 it built the Echo Ranger, an unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) able to descend to depths of up to 10,000 feet (3,048 metres) and intended to be used by oil and gas companies to survey seabeds.  Despite quickly attracting the attention of the US military, who have been conducting their own tests on it, the Ranger has been peacefully employed by, among others, a US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration project to explore a sunken WWII aircraft carrier off the coast of California.

Just last year Boeing released the successor to the Ranger, the upgraded Echo Seeker. This submersible is larger at 32 feet (9.7 metres) and can dive up to twice the depth of the Ranger while staying submerged for up to three days.  Building on the Ranger, the Seeker was designed for flexibility, with a variety of civilian and military roles in mind.

That flexibility has been taken even further with the Voyager, which Boeing considers to be the first mature part of their UUV line, a fully autonomous submarine that can operate for months at a time and, unlike previous Echo vehicles, does not require a support ship nearby


The Voyager is significantly larger than the Ranger and Seeker at 51 feet (15.5 metres) long, which gives it enough room for a payload bay and makes remote equipment deployment possible.

Boeing makes no bones about its close relationship with the US armed forces, and alludes to military uses for the technology, such as antisubmarine warfare and reconnaissance, but also stress that it will advance ocean science as well as being attractive to commercial users.

Lance Towers, Director of the Boeing Sea & Land division, uses the example of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which flooded the Gulf of Mexico with crude oil in 2010.  With the Echo Voyager, Towers explains, you could have a UUV almost permanently deployed at sea constantly taking samples to see how recovery is progressing, processing the data while underway, and periodically surfacing to send the results back to base.  This would save the cost and inconvenience of a crewed support ship at sea for months at a time

It can be a bit disconcerting to see just how far along the rise of the robots is.  While most of the attention has been on airborne UAVs, now that they have the ability to take to the seas it’s clear that drones are now truly everywhere.  Here’s hoping the Echo Voyager’s peaceful applications outnumber the military ones.


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