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Navy Conducts Autonomous Patrol Missions Through Unmanned Small Boat Swarm

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The U.S. Navy has demonstrated a swarm of unmanned small boats through autonomous patrol missions in Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay for an effort to demonstrate the vehicles’ functions with remote human supervision.

The service branch said Wednesday the Office of Naval Research worked with industry, academia and government partners to gather a swarm of rigid hull inflatable boats and other small boats to conduct patrol missions.

“While previous work had focused on autonomous protection of high-value ships, this time we were focused on harbor approach defense,” said Luis Molina, military deputy at ONR’s Sea Warfare and Weapons Department.

The swarm worked to identify which boat would approach an unknown vessel, classify whether the vessel is a threat and subsequently communicate with swarm boats to track and trail the unknown vessel as others continue to patrol the area, the Navy said.

Swarm boats also sent status updates to a human supervisor during the demonstration.

ONR currently develops an autonomy technology dubbed Control Architecture for Robotic Agent Command and Sensing.

CARACaS was first demonstrated in 2014 on the James River in Virginia, multiple RHIBs used the autonomy package to operate with other unmanned vessels in efforts to intercept potential enemy ships and escort naval assets.

Robert Brizzolara, an ONR program officer, said additional functions have been added to CARACaS since the first demonstration such as automated vessel classification from imagery and unmanned surface vehicle behaviors and tactics.

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