US Navy tests GhostSwimmer "roboshark"

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The GhostSwimmer cruises the waters of Virginia Beach

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Should you be swimming in the ocean sometime soon and spot a shark-like dorsal fin cutting through the water towards you, just relax – it might simply be a military robot, that's made to look like a shark. A US Navy team has recently been testing just such a device at its Joint Expeditionary Base East, in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Known as the GhostSwimmer, the robot was developed by Boston Engineering as part of the Navy's Silent NEMO project, which is aimed at creating nature-inspired unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs).

The GhostSwimmer is about five feet (1.5 m) long, weighs almost 100 lb (45 kg), and is described as mimicking the body shape and swinging-tail-driven swimming style of "a large fish." It can operate in depths ranging from just 10 inches down to 300 feet (0.25 to 91 m).

Users can remotely control it via a 500-foot (152-m) tether connected to a laptop, or it can operate autonomously using onboard sensors and a long-lasting battery. When tethered, it can relay video and other data in real time. In autonomous mode, that data is recorded and then transmitted (or collected directly) when the UUV surfaces.

Its fish-like method of propulsion reportedly makes it quieter than a propeller-driven craft of the same size. Along with its stealthy appearance, this obviously lends it to covert applications such as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions. According to the Navy, however, it can also be used for "friendly" jobs, such as hull inspection. In the tests at Virginia Beach, it's been used to gather data on tides, varied currents, wakes, and weather conditions.

GhostSwimmer can be seen in action, in the video below. Boston Engineering has been developing it alongside a similar device called the BIOSwimmer, which resembles a tuna.

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