Artificial Intelligence transportation tests are being conducted deep underwater by autonomous robots, which can explore high-pressure areas of the ocean floor that are unreachable by humans through preprogrammed missions. These robots are often used by scientists for underwater research, oil and gas companies for deep water surveys, and the military for mapping the seafloor, looking for mines, and supplying underwater surveillance.
Many navies worldwide are investing in unmanned underwater vehicles to elevate their fleet of below-water defence tools. Defence company Anduril Industries acquired AUV manufacturer Dive Technologies, which gave them a customizable AUV of their own called the Dive-LD. Anduril Industries also expanded to Australia and partnered with the Australian Defense Force to work on a $100 million project to design and create three extra-large AUVs for the Royal Australian Navy.
The Royal Navy recently ordered its first AUV named Cetus XLUUV from MSubs, which is expected to be completed in about two years. The U.K.’s Ministry of Defence announced the donation of six autonomous underwater drones to Ukraine to aid in their fight against Russia by locating and identifying Russian mines. China has also recently completed construction on the Zhu Hai Yun, an unmanned ship made to launch drones and that utilizes artificial intelligence to navigate the seas with no crew required. The ship is described by officials in Beijing as a research tool, but many experts expect it to also be used for military purposes.
The potential use of AUVs in underwater warfare, beyond their current role as surveillance tools, raises ethical concerns in the fields of artificial intelligence and robotics. Despite their advanced capabilities for autonomous decision-making, the impact on human life is a crucial factor to consider.
Boeing has been working on AUVs since the 1970s and has collaborated with the United States Navy and DARPA on a number of underwater vehicle projects in recent years. The Echo Voyager, Boeing’s first extra-large unmanned undersea vehicle, first began operating in 2017 after about five years of design and development. It’s 51-feet long with a 34-foot payload that is approximately the size of a school bus and can be used for oil and gas exploration, long-duration surveying and analyzing infrastructure for oil and gas companies. Boeing has been in the process of developing the Orca XLUUV with funding from the United States Navy. The company won a $43 million contract to build four of the AUVs, which are based off of the design of Boeing’s Echo Voyager, in February 2019.
Robotics, AI and automation is still a young field. AUVs still have some challenges to overcome before they’re a feasible mechanism for everyday use, for one, the robots have to function in an arguably harsher environment than air, where the water’s higher density creates hydraulic drag that slows down the robot and drains its battery faster. However, some AUVs in development have impressive speeds and endurance. These robots are a helpful tool in military ocean exploration, obtaining critical information such as mapping the seafloor, looking for mines, and supplying underwater surveillance. Scientists can also use AUVs for underwater research in deep water surveys.