Swiftships developing unmanned vessel for Navy

The following is the text of a news release from Swiftships Shipbuilders LLC:

(MORGAN CITY, La.) — Swiftships Shipbuilders LLC, located in Morgan City, Louisiana, has partnered with the University of Louisiana Lafayette (UL Lafayette) for the development of new technology to produce a completely autonomous watercraft. This unmanned advanced technology will allow for the vessel to make sound and accurate decisions for navigation and defense needs based on the environment in which it is applied. The goal of this partnership is to design a vessel to support the efforts of Navy’s operations on in-land waters by providing the combined advantages of power, speed, surprise, greater mobility, ease of deployment, and mission success. This new technology coupled with Swiftships’ Special Operations Craft will allow for brownwater missions to be implemented effectively without any human endangerment.

Because of the university’s expertise in control systems, sensors and robotics, Swiftships has enlisted UL Lafayette to enhance the Anaconda’s capabilities with autonomous technology. Dr. Arun Lakhotia, a professor of computer science, and Dr. Joshua Vaughan, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, will apply existing technology that was used to create “CajunBot”, an autonomous all-terrain vehicle, in 2004.

“We will begin with some basic goals, such as getting the boat to operate autonomously in relatively calm water and to follow simple patterns, such as a straight line or simple turns. As the project continues, we will be developing more complex tasks,” Lakhotia explained.

Swiftships’ team of experienced naval operators, engineers, skilled craftsmen, and combat veterans are steady exploring innovative ideas to enhance its military programs as vigorously and enthusiastically as its predecessors who developed the famous “Swift Boats” in the 1960s. The vessel currently under development with UL Lafayette is a 35-foot Special Operations Craft- Riverine (SOCR), also known as “the Anaconda”. The Anaconda has been operated in several training exercises with US Special Operations Teams. While its real world application has served as the foundation for research and development Swiftships’ project management , UL Lafayette will now lead the development of autonomous technology that will be applied to the Anaconda.

Eric Geibel, Swiftships Director of Special Programs said, “It is part of the Swiftships heritage to be at the forefront of technology. Our relationship with UL Lafayette is a significant piece of our developing team. The application of autonomous technology has far reaching implications for the entire inland shipping industry.”

CajunBot technology was developed as part of the DARPA Program to develop autonomous ground vehicles that are implemented in military operations today. DARPA is the central research and development agency for the U.S. Department of Defense. CajunBot competed with some of the nation’s most prestigious universities in an elite challenge held by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. In 2005 DARPA repeated the challenge, fielding more than 198 team entries. Team CajunBot, again, successfully passed the qualification rounds and earned a place among 23 teams selected to compete in the finals. Team CajunBot defied odds and competed successfully in the qualification rounds, earning a place among the 13 teams selected to compete in the finals, out of 106 initial applicants. Today, Lakhotia, Vaughan, and other researchers from UL Lafayette have officially begun a three-year research program with Swiftships to modify the Anaconda.

Dr. Ramesh Kolluru, interim vice president for Research, said this public-private partnership will also give undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to engage in hands-on research. "Swiftships is also looking to UL Lafayette to serve as a partner to provide training on the Anaconda, which will create opportunities in workforce and economic development," he added.

Swiftships vision is to deliver innovative solutions, provide comprehensive training, and implement advanced technologies that meet mission-critical needs while minimizing any threats to military personnel. The partnership with UL Lafayette will allow the University to expand its existing program to develop the `autonomous vessel ultimately allowing Swiftships to enhance its capabilities for military applications.

By Professional Mariner Staff