Viewed from overhead, as they cut through the water, one could be forgiven for initially mistaking Aquabotix’s new SwarmDiver units for a school of fish, rather than a cluster of highly complex marine micro-drones. A close-up view, however, reveals these units to be rather simplistic-looking, baton-shaped objects – too small, perhaps, for many to guess their true purpose.
The SwarmDiver is intended to serve as both an unmanned surface vehicle (USV) and an unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV), and features the capability to dive down to 50m vertically. The vehicle has been developed to operate in autonomous or remote-control mode, and either on its own or as part of a wider ‘swarm’, which can be controlled via an operator on the surface “to perform dives and collect intelligence on command”, Aquabotix explains.
The concept is that one solo operator can control multiple SwarmDiver units simultaneously, interacting with the fleet “as a single entity”, Aquabotix claims – right down to arranging synchronised dives and ‘return to home’ movements. Each SwarmDiver is fitted with dual radio communications (900MHz / 2.4GHz) and can relay collected sea data back to the operator wirelessly, once it has floated back up to the surface.
Aquabotix claims: “The swarm technology uses communication protocols and algorithms that allow intercommunication among multiple vehicles. High-level commands are delivered via an intuitive graphical user interface, enabling an entire fleet of SwarmDivers to remain in constant contact with each other.” In the field, the swarm would operate with the aid of a multi-constellation GPS network with +/-1m location accuracy, the manufacturer adds, so that each unit is aware of its global position and fully trackable.
Obviously, military and naval forces and police/coast guard agencies represent ideal customers for the solution, though Aquabotix also identifies players involved in offshore research, aquaculture, environmental monitoring and hydrographic surveys as potential beneficiaries of the technology.
The SwarmDiver is indeed miniscule, measuring just 750mm in length by 130mm in breadth and weighing a mere 1.7kg. The unit is powered by two brushless DC motors, fed by a battery pack and protected in a small mesh-style cage, which grant it a maximum speed of 4.3knots. In terms of range, the drone can operate for up to 2.5 hours before its batteries require recharging – sufficient for it to cover a distance of 7km, Aquabotix estimates.
Given the solution’s size and weight, Aquabotix has highlighted ease of deployment / recovery as a key benefit. The user simply switches on each SwarmDiver and drops it directly into the water, even from a height of up to 3m or 4m; strategically positioned prop guards and a rubber nose have been incorporated into the design, to shield the vehicle’s core from potential impact damage. Each unit also features an oversized handle, to make it easy to pick up by hand or boat hook.
The SwarmDiver comes with a temperature sensor, with accuracy rated in the +/-0.1⁰C range, and a pressure sensor, which is capable of sensing the unit’s depth to within 20mm. Additional sensor payloads can be added to the unit for mission-specific tasks.