Article Source: IMechE

Stock image (Credit: Shutterstock)
Stock image (Credit: Shutterstock)

Swarming underwater robots designed to “overwhelm” military targets will be equipped with explosives, the manufacturer has announced.

Aquabotix will attach explosives to its miniature SwarmDiver robots after receiving a licence from the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

When launched as a group, the surface and underwater vehicles operate as “single, coordinated entities”. Human operators on the surface control the groups of 75cm-long bots, which can dive to 50m. Weighing just 1.7kg, they can travel at up to 4.3 knots (8km/h) and have a battery life of 2.5 hours.

Although previously focused on identifying targets with its vehicles, the Australian-American company will also now be able to “neutralise and disable” them, said chief executive Whitney Million. Potential uses include unexploded ordnance removal and mine countermeasures, she said in a short online video.

“Most commerce right now is actually still conducted using ships,” she said. “Trade routes are typically running through areas where there are ongoing conflicts, or where there have previously been conflicts and there may be some residual explosives in the waters there. But just because these mines are old doesn’t mean that they’re not a problem.”

She added: “A SwarmDiver with an explosive capability could be used in place of a diver to go to the known location of the mine, drop down into the water, detonate it. And this can all be done remotely, seamlessly, without a human actually involved in that process. It’s also much more covert, and you don’t have to worry about it resurfacing multiple times. It can all be done really quickly and cost-effectively.”

Although the video focused on mine and explosive removal, the company has previously touted the SwarmDiver’s potential for military applications. Million said they could be used for “sophisticated, coordinated assaults through tracking, trailing and overwhelming targets”. Combining explosives with the robots raises the potential of disabling enemy ships with underwater explosives.

Aquabotix did not announce how it would add the explosives to its robots.

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