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U.S. Military Tests Floating Robot Platforms That Can Land and Refuel VTOLs

Autonomous systems are becoming increasingly important for all types of marine applications, and several innovative boats have demonstrated that, from tugboats and smaller research vessels, to the ambitious Mayflower project. It was only natural that the military would also become interested in the benefits of robotic systems for watercraft.
Sea Machines has been awarded a DoD contract for developing autonomous barges that can refuel VTOLs 7 photos
Autonomous control systemAutonomous control systemAutonomous refueling stationSea Machines autonomous kit can be implemented on different types of vesselsSea Machines autonomous kit can be implemented on different types of vesselsSea Machines autonomous kit can be implemented on different types of vessels
It’s not news that autonomous vessels are slowly becoming a part of military fleets – earlier this year, the British Royal Navy began testing Madfox, which would primarily be a surveillance vessel, and also officially introduced Hebe, the mine-hunter. But autonomous systems can have other marine applications as well, other than being used for actual robot vessels.

One of these innovative applications is the development of floating refueling stations for military aircraft and ships, which would be capable of self-propulsion and autonomous deployment. This is one of the current U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) projects. It looks like the U.S. military wants to have oceangoing replenishment platforms capable of landing and refueling military vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft.

And it makes sense – being able to deploy remotely-controlled fueling barges would not only be a huge asset for extending aircraft range and quickly deploying them, anywhere in the world, but it would also take some of the burden from other support vessels, which could then be used for other critical tasks.

Sea Machines is the main industrial partner in this project. Specialized in autonomous vessel software and systems, the Boston-based company recently announced that the Phase 2 of its multi-year contract with DoD was initiated. Last year, the company successfully demonstrated a kit based on its SM300 autonomous control system, plus perception technology based on advanced computer vision. During this second phase, the autonomous command-and-control kit will be engineered, and ultimately implemented on a full-scale robotic platform.

One of the main benefits of this system is that it doesn’t require an entirely new platform and it can simply transform already existing commercial barges into remotely-controlled platforms where military VTOLs and helicopters can land and be refueled. The kit complies with DoD aviation bodies’ regulations and U.S. Navy criteria, and it’s being developed with support from big names in the industry - FOSS Maritime, Huntington Ingalls and Bell Flight.

The next DoD evaluation of the project is scheduled for Spring 2022.


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