The US Navy has an underwater drone that looks suspiciously like a robot shark.
Called the “GhostSwimmer”, it’s nearly two metres long and weighs about 45kg. So, a small shark, but one that could take your hand off, nonetheless.
Boston Engineering put the protoype it was working on for the US Navy on show as far back as 2008.
At the time, its brief was to develop a drone that was an evolution on the rigid torpedo shapes of then-current underwater drones.
Unlike a torpedo shape, GhostSwimmer is flexible, allowing for comparatively instantaneous turning ability.
Back in 2008, it was called an “Autonomous Blue Tuna”, but it’s destined to be a “robot shark” now it has been spotted in the wild.
Swimming like a tuna also makes it harder to spot on sonar, as it’s not as obviously a rigid shape moving in a straight line.
About a year ago, the US Navy’s Office of Naval Research stepped up development of the drone. It’s now in the hands of the Chief of Naval Operations Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC) and known as Project Silent Nemo.
The CRIC is in itself something of an experiment.
Captain Jim Loper is the head of the concepts and innovation department at the Navy Warfare Development Command in Norfolk, Virginia. He told the Daily Press he saw the CRIC as something akin to the US Navy’s “venture capital model”, charged with speeding up innovation by putting projects like Silent Nemo in the hands of enthusiastic young recruits.
At 27, Marine Corps Captain Jerry Lademan is managing the Ghost Swimmer project, one of about a dozen currently in the hands of CRIC. It’s cost the CRIC in the vicinity of $1 million to date to develop.
The GhostSwimmer uses a rear fin to propel itself through the water, which is reportedly up to 10 times quieter than a regular propellor.
Last week, it was taken for a test run at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek in Virginia Beach. It was controlled by a joystick and a 500m tether, but a spokesman for Boston Engineering said it was just “months away” from being able to swim autonomously.
It can dive to 100m.
And while it’s not yet weaponised, Capt Loper, when posed with the question, simply said: “Let your imagination run wild.”