Underwater Drone Nears Production Phase (UPDATED)

By Yasmin Tadjdeh

Photo: General Dynamics

A new lightweight autonomous underwater vehicle that can be kept in a rucksack is nearly ready for the production line, according to General Dynamics executives.

The company’s SandShark weighs 15 pounds and can be outfitted with a number of sensors, said Rand LeBouvier, senior manager of General Dynamics' autonomous undersea systems portfolio.

“You could call it kind of the quadcopter of the undersea world,” he said.

SandShark originated from a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency program known as the adaptable sensor system, he said. The purpose was to create a low-cost, open architecture unmanned underwater vehicle that could be used for a variety of missions, he said. Bluefin Robotics, which was purchased by General Dynamics earlier this year, won that contract in 2013 and the program ended in 2015.

SandShark is “designed to enable people to take a basic vehicle design and then expand upon to it increase capabilities, to test out new sensors,” LeBouvier said.

The system is an affordable option for the Navy and other customers, said Tracy Howard, director of undersea programs at General Dynamics.

“For the Navy, there are many applications we see for expendable micro-UUVs to replace or expand on current capabilities,” he said. The system could be used for mine countermeasures or for anti-submarine warfare training missions, he said.

General Dynamics is currently in the final stages of refining the design of SandShark to improve upon the DARPA version, LeBouvier said. General Dynamics expects it will begin taking orders toward the end of 2016 and delivering vehicles at the beginning of 2017.

The company currently has interest from military, commercial and academic customers, he said.
In August, General Dynamics will test out a prototype version of SandShark in concert with a 21-inch heavyweight underwater drone as a payload delivery vehicle, Howard said. The test is part of the Navy’s annual naval technology exercise.

“There’s a lot of interest in this area, a lot of potential applications,” he said. “The Navy sponsors that we’re working with on this demonstration exercise … are anxious to demonstrate a lot of concepts” such as swarming and coordination between multiple UUVs, he added.

Update: This article has been updated with Rand LeBouvier's new title.

Topics: Robotics, Unmanned Underwater Vehicles, Undersea Warfare

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