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'Anaconda' aims to develop autonomous river boat

Aug. 25, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Emerald Warrior 2013
The Swiftboats prototype, seen here at Exercise Emerald Warrior, will eventually be controlled autonomously to take the boat operator out of the battlefield for riverine and special operations units. (Tech. Sgt. DeNoris Mickle / Air Force)
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Imagine being able to conduct surveillance, deliver supplies and even extract troops from a riverine war zone without sending a boat operator into danger.

Swiftships Shipbuilders LLC tested a prototype riverine vessel earlier this year that eventually will be fully autonomous. The goal of the company’s Project Anaconda is to have the autonomous watercraft ready in about 18 months, said Eric Geibel, the director of special programs for Swiftships.

When it’s finished, operators will be able to control the boat in three ways: with a person onboard like a traditional vessel; partly autonomous, with an operator controlling the vessel remotely; and fully autonomous, where it can be programmed to go from point A to point B while avoiding obstacles in the water, Geibel said.

“It’s always beneficial to take the man out of the battlefield,” he said.

He envisions the vessel being used by special operators and riverines to extract troops from a hot zone, deliver resources, perform air and water sampling, and conduct surveillance with cameras that will feed back to a human operator. There could be weapons mounted on the vessel, too.

A prototype of the boat was tested by sailors in April at Exercise Emerald Warrior, a war-fighting exercise in Marianna, Fla. The prototype is 35 feet long by 8 feet wide by 6.5 feet tall and can be transported via truck, carried by a Chinook helo or dropped from the air with a parachute.

“Participating in Emerald Warrior enabled Swiftships to get first-hand knowledge of what they would utilize this type of vessel for,” Geibel said. “The feedback provided by guys in the field is invaluable to develop a system that meets expectations.”

The company plans to widen the front of the vessel to accommodate all-terrain vehicles boarding or exiting.

Swiftships, a Louisiana-based company focusing on small- and medium-sized boats, has not received funding or an order for the final product from the Navy but has received interest from operators, Geibel said.

Lt. Cmdr. Ligia Cohen, a spokeswoman for U.S. Special Operations Command, confirmed the boat participated in the exercise but said there are no plans to field new boats for SOCOM and riverine teams.

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