DARPA’s Manta Ray Underwater Drones Enter Phase 2, Demo Vehicles on the Way

DARPA Manta Ray drone rendering 6 photos
Photo: DARPA
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Like it or not, drones have completely changed our lives. Whether we’re talking about the commercially-available ones, that allow us to shoot incredible videos of whatever exploit or military hunter-killers, drones are now an integral part of our society.
There is one medium though where drones, although present, still have a long way to go to reach their full potential: underwater. And this is where the force behind some of the world’s biggest technological breakthroughs, DARPA, comes in.

Back in 2020, the agency kicked off something it calls the Manta Ray program. That would be an initiative meant to create “technologies allowing payload-capable autonomous unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) to operate on long-duration, long-range missions in ocean environments.”

About a year after that moment, DARPA says it is ready to move into the second phase of the project, one that will see defense contractors Northrop Grumman and Martin Defense Group create two full-scale demonstration vehicles.

At the time of writing, and given the mostly military nature of the project, not much is known about the Manta Ray itself, but we do know some of the technologies being developed for it might very well find applications elsewhere. That includes undersea energy harvesting techniques, propulsion systems, detection and classification of hazards and threats, but also ways to mitigate biofouling or corrosion.

DARPA does not say how long the two companies have to come up with their respective versions of the Manta Ray.

“DARPA’s Manta Ray program has made significant breakthroughs toward enabling payload-capable autonomous underwater vehicles to operate independently of crewed vessels or support infrastructure,” said in a statement CDR Kyle Woerner, Manta Ray’s program manager.

“By investing in diverse solutions, DARPA strengthens our ability to transition innovative undersea technologies to our national security partners. Manta Ray is uniquely positioning itself to simultaneously introduce a new class of underwater vehicles while contributing key component technologies to other vital undersea programs.”

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About the author: Daniel Patrascu
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Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
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