General Dynamics' latest unmanned underwater vehicle crams powerful tech into portable package
General Dynamics has unveiled its new Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (UUV), the Bluefin-9. Aimed at defense, academic, and commercial users, the latest in the company's Bluefin family of autonomous undersea drones made its public debut at Oceans 2018 conference and exposition in Charleston, South Carolina.
General Dynamics has a history of building advanced autonomous UUVs, such as its Knifefish minehunter, but the goal of Bluefin-9 seems to be to pack as much navigational and sensor equipment into as small a package as possible, yet still provide highly-detailed subsurface data in close to real time.
The Bluefin-9 is described as two-man portable, weighing in at 155 lb (70 kg) with an overall length of 95.2 in (241.8 cm) and a diameter of 9.375 in (23.8 cm). Equipped with a pair of mounted carry handles, it can be launched and recovered from piers, rigid-hulled inflatables, and a variety of other vessels. In addition, it's been re-engineered to be modular, so it's easy to maintain and components like the 1 TB Removable Data Storage Module (RDSM) and the 1.9 kWh rechargeable li-ion battery can be swapped out in under 30 minutes.
Inside the yellow carbon composite hull is what General Dynamics claims is the most powerful sensor package offered in a two-man portable UUV. This includes a side-scan sonar with full-swath bathymetry, a high-definition machine-vision camera, sound velocity sensor with the ability to measure temperature and pressure, turbidity sensor, and fluorometry capabilities.
These sensors are combined with a state-of-the-art GPS navigation and inertial guidance system that allows it to carry out detailed hydrographic surveys and return high-definition images in shallow water. In addition, its onboard computers can process incoming data, making it available in minutes rather than hours.
The Bluefin-9 is buoyant in both fresh and saltwater and is rated to a depth of 656 ft (200 m). Its gimbaled, ducted thruster drives it at up to six knots (6.9 mph, 11.1 km/h) during sustained transit and it can run for eight hours cruising at three knots (3.4 mph, 5.6 km/h). For navigation and data transfer, there's a short GPS, Wi-Fi, and Iridium antenna, and there is also an acoustic communications link.
General Dynamics says that Bluefin-9 has applications for inshore surveying, environmental monitoring, hydrographic mapping, mine countermeasures, port and harbor security, intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance, and search and recovery.
The video below looks at the features of the Bluefin-9.
Source: General Dynamics