Boeing’s Massive Autonomous Sub Takes to the Seas

June 16, 2017

Kyle Maxey posted on June 15, 2017

Boeing’s Echo Voyager, a 51-foot, Extra Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (XLUUV) has taken to the water off the coast of California to demonstrate its abilities in its first sea trials.

Unlike other unmanned subs, the Echo Voyager isn’t tethered to a mothership, and it doesn’t require human intervention to make decisions. Instead, the Echo Voyager is guided by an advanced autonomous computer system that can pilot the submersible for months at a time. To power the entire operation, the Voyager also comes equipped with a hybrid rechargeable power system.

The U.S. Navy is particularly intrigued by the potential of the XLUUVs, and sees them being a critical part of a 21st century Navy. By leveraging relatively inexpensive autonomous craft, the U.S. Navy could extend its underwater surveillance capabilities, create higher resolution navigation maps of the deep ocean and amplify early warning systems.

But for all of that to work, XLUUVs have to prove that they’re capable of voyaging alone.

“Unlike an aerial vehicle, or a satellite where you can communicate with it when it’s in trouble, with subsea vehicles you can’t do that because of the communication,” said David Flowers, manager of Boeing’s XLUUV project. “So, autonomy is that much more important. The vehicle has got to understand what to do if it gets in trouble, make rule-based decisions and act in a way that allows it to stay safe and complete its mission.”

In its recent test, the Echo Voyager splashed down and ran through a battery of trials to prove out its propulsion, communications, power, system integration and autonomous resources.

Although these are only preliminary tests, Boeing seems to have confidence in its XLUUV, and announced last week that it will be working with Huntington Ingalls Industries to design and build underwater drones for the U.S. Navy to satisfy the service’s need for XLUUVs.

In the coming months, Boeing expects to begin deep sea dives with the Echo Voyager. Those tests will be critical in determining whether the craft can meet the Navy’s requirements for a stealthy submersible that can prowl the ocean without the need for human intervention.

To learn more, visit Boeing’s website.