The Beach Boys: Surfing U.....MVs (Unmanned Maritime Vehicles)
Posted: 01/23/2012 12:00:00 AM EST
Liquid Robotics Inc. is a Sunnyvale, California-based company that has developed the Wave Glider, a self-propelled and continuous Unmanned Maritime Vehicle (UMV). Bill Vass, President and CEO at Liquid Robotics, recently spoke with Defence IQ to discuss the company’s technology and how it can be utilised for military applications.
The company’s Wave Glider uses wave and solar energy to power itself for long periods of time, with some deployments having lasted years at a time.
“Our big innovation is converting the vertical motion of a wave directly into forward thrust … all the other autonomous platforms out there use their energy to move; we get our movement for free and we use all our energy to do computing and sensing,” Vass said.
The Wave Glider can be used for a range of different missions, but primarily the technology is a sensing platform.
“It can be used for battlespace softening … it can be used for protecting a fleet by listening for submarines or torpedoes, it can be used for anti-mine, it can be used for obviously reconnaissance, for providing security for specific areas, to patrol a specific location and provide an alarm if an acoustic, video or radar event occurs,” Vass explained.
The company is currently working with a number of customers in the military space and the sector accounts for a significant part of its revenue. Looking ahead, Vass expects countries Like Canada and India to increase their reliance on autonomous vehicles to enhance border security.
“Any country like Canada that has a small Navy and a large shoreline, or Australia or New Zealand or India or Brazil or South Africa, are all great targets for us … it’s a lot cheaper having robots patrolling your coastline than it is to have ships, from an economic perspective they can have many more points of presence at a much lower cost.”
And in this era of budget cuts, cost, along with operational efficiency, will be a big selling point for Liquid Robotics. “We don’t need a support vessel to do long range missions over very large distances for long periods of time,” said Vass. He continued, “Robots don’t get bored, they do the same course over and over again 24 hours a day 365 days a year, they don’t care about bad weather.”
The rise and rise of the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle is patent for everyone to see. According to a Congressional Research Service report produced earlier this month, 31% of all U.S. military aircraft are now UAVs; in 2005 this was just 5%. Asked if the UMV could go the same way, Vass was unequivocal.
“Yes, I definitely think so, in fact I see them being the same sort of size market and them working together in the future,” said Vass. But there was a caveat: “Cultural changes have to occur in the military both for the aerial vehicles and surface and sub-surface vehicles to be widely accepted.”
Vass expects the Wave Glider to be a useful addition to the Navy’s fleet, one that can be used in combination with other ships, such as offshore patrol vessels.
“It’s always going to be in conjunction with ships like offshore patrol vessels … if you have a country like New Zealand you’d have to have hundreds of ships out there to ensure proper coastline coverage but you could have hundreds of robots at a much lower cost. The robots will pick things up and then you’d have high-speed patrol boats come along to investigate further, so I think they’d work as a team in the future.”
The company is still small, but it’s growing fast and has some weighty backers. Not least is Vass himself who has a significant government and military background. “I was the Chief Information Officer for the Pentagon and responsible for all the software systems for the Department of Defense and before that I was the Chief Technology Officer for the Army for their personnel systems,” he said. Previously, Vass was also President and COO of Sun Microsystems Federal and Chief Security Officer for Sun IT. In addition, the company's strategic advisory board includes, among others: Marv Langston, Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, USDOD and former Deputy Secretary of the Navy, Space and Electronic Warfare; Albert Baciocco, Vice Admiral, U.S. Navy (ret.); former Commander Submarine Group SIX, former Chief of Naval Research and former Director of Navy RDT&E; as well as Archie Clemins, Admiral, U.S. Navy (ret.), the former Commander in Chief, United States Pacific Fleet.
The company has a solid base to grow from, but how does Vass see the technology evolving in the military sector?
“There are a number of areas where we see future growth and future development. One is to build a larger Wave Glider with the ability to travel as fast as 20 knots for a period of time with a huge amount of power generation from wave and sun energy generation … I’m talking about a four tonne unit that can carry lots of platforms. The other area that we’re doing research on is a deep-diving Wave Glider, you can imagine them operating in fleets where there are five of them on the surface recharging while one is deep-diving 3,000 metres below. Quick deployment versions, things that can be launched in the operating space quickly either from air or other types of sea deployment are other areas we’re also working on.”
Vass concluded, “If we get the right funding in place, diving Wave Gliders and larger platform Wave Gliders could do a whole range of the Navy’s required mission areas.”
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