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Challenges and Future Perspective

Manufacturers aim to continually improve the functionality, performance, eco-friendliness and power efficiency of their UUVs. Saab has already launched an AUV/ROV hybrid that can switch between roles during a mission, and there will be more hybrid launches in the future. Also, the sector is turning to biomimicry to improve propulsion and maneuverability, as in the case of Festo’s AquaJelly and EvoLogics’ BOSS Manta Ray. Moreover, there is concern that the USBL technology disrupts marine life and could interfere, for example, with the acoustic communications whales use when feeding, breeding, and breaching. Lastly, researchers are experimenting with combining different battery and power systems with supercapacitors, extracting energy from seawater, installing underwater power stations to refuel the UUV, and transferring power wirelessly.

Manufacturers are likely responding to the continual commitment from the government. Within the U.S. Department of Defense, the Navy receives the biggest budget to develop unmanned systems. The Navy plans to have its squadron of UUVs by 2020 and ultimately replace trained animals with Kongsberg/Hydroid’s REMUS MK 18 Mod 2 Kingfish in sea mine removal operations.

Meanwhile, navies in the UK, France, Russia, Japan, and China continue to use UUVs or develop related technologies to stay competitive. For example, China is working to incorporate artificial intelligence into drones, and Russia is developing nuclear-powered drones. Whether for the purposes of exploration, research, rescue, military or defense, one thing is clear – advanced technologies used in underwater drones will continue to develop.

This article was written by John W. Koon, Contributing Editor, Aerospace & Defense Technology.