The U.S. Army have developed robots that can detect dangerous maritime mines underwater.
According to Bloomberg, the deepwater robot will be used to dive and search out underwater mines — low tech, but still highly dangerous. If there is accidental contact with one of these devices, ships and submarines can be damaged, oil and gas pipeines can be destroyed and it can go so far as to affect the general public — through the ruination of telephone and Internet lines.
Around 50 countries have a total of 250,000 underwater mines that could be dropped in oceans around the world according to U.S. Navy estimates. With China leading in the most sophisticated array of mines, it is necessary for army development teams to consider how best to detect and avoid the next generation of these devices.
Andrew Krepinevich, president of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington said:
“We have traditionally been under-equipped for the mine-sweeping mission because U.S. allies picked up that role in the aftermath of World War II. Right now the Navy is looking at mine-sweeping because the problem is getting bigger.”
The Navy currently relies on a small feel of remote-controlled underwater vehicles — used since the 1990s — training dolphins and divers to sniff out mines. Even though budget cuts are looming, the military hopes their plans for the next generation of underwater mine detectors won’t be scuppered.
The underwater drones, known as Knifefish, are being developed by the Unmanned Maritime Systems Program Office. The drones are 19 feet long, weigh 1,700 pounds and are currently powered by lithium-ion batteries.
Shaped like torpedoes, the robots are able to stay underwater for 16 hours before requiring a charge — and do not need a pilot. By sending out low-frequency signals, obstacles they come across are sent back to analysts in the form of images — so mines can be detected against other objects such as pipelines.
Eventually, the U.S. Army hopes that underwater drones will be able to blow up these maritime mines. However, the military must first develop better power sources for the machines — as they currently only last two days before requiring a charge.
The U.S. Navy will spend $170 million over the next five years to design eight of the Knifefish robots, with the first one taking its fledgling dive in 2016.
These will be created by General Dynamics and Bluefin Robotics, and it is estimated that the Navy will have purchased 52 of these by 2034.