Currently being developed by defense contractor QinetiQ in collaboration with the U.S. Office of Naval Research (ONR), "Blackfish" is a robotic jet-ski designed specifically to patrol harbors and search for underwater intruders. The remote-controlled craft carries an array of sensors that allow it to "see" under water and can travel at speeds of 40 mph (64 km/h) as well as tracking at lower speeds than conventional jet-skis.

The marine-defense project is a response to long standing concerns about port security that stem from the suicide attack in 2000 in the port of Aden, Yemen, which caused the deaths of 17 sailors.

"Blackfish is ideally suited for port and harbor security, and in particular for swimmer detection and the detection of other threats near critical assets," Jennifer Pickett, Director of Communications for QinetiQ, told Gizmag. "Beyond port and harbor security, there are several other missions that could be applicable for Blackfish, including Coast Guard missions, immigration/border protection, shoreline protection, and surveillance for piracy, smuggling and other illegal maritime activities."

The 10-foot (3 m) long military-use unmanned jet-ski is equipped with underwater sonar, radar and surface and underwater cameras to monitor waterways and detect potentially dangerous threats. Blackfish can operate within a 1 km radius of the controller and its GPS can be programmed for automatic patrolling.

Weaponry can be optionally fitted to the jet-ski and inbuilt sensors can register when it is in close range to a swimmer, in which case it is capable of diverting course without causing harm. In addition a hydro-jet has been installed rather than a propeller to also avoid possible harm to innocent swimmers.

Since jet-skis are naturally speedy vehicles, one of the major problems tackled by the QinetiQ team was to create a vehicle that could be slow enough to monitor swimmers. This was achieved by adding bow thrusters which allow the jet-ski to track at low speeds.

The team will continue scenario training in the coming months, involving the Navy and civilian law enforcement. Simulations will involve working with submerged crafts, drone aircrafts and special sensors to negate explosives and nuclear bomb devices.

QinetiQ intends to further develop unmanned maritime vehicles such as Blackfish. "There are numerous features and capabilities that could be developed for future unmanned maritime vehicles," added Pickett. "QinetiQ North America is interested in developing a more advanced prototype."

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