Boeing’s robotics under the scope
Boeing’s autonomous systems cover applications in both the airborne and maritime domains. In the latter, the company’s offerings include the ECHO RANGER, SEEKER, ECO VOYAGER and WAVE GLIDER (SHARC), the networked combination of which provides communications and C2 from the subsurface to surface environments, providing operators and local commanders with fresh capabilities.
The Extra Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (XLUUV), also known as ECHO VOYAGER, is fully autonomous and mission reconfigurable, capable of carrying a wide variety of payloads. Under normal mission conditions, only the tip of the eight foot mast is exposed, for communications requirements, but the vehicle can dive in similar manner to a diesel submarine, which action it can take if threatened with detection or attack. Operational range of the 51ft vessel with two fuel tanks is 6,500nm – which can be doubled with the addition of a third tank – although submerged range is limited to 150 nautical miles. Loiter time on station can be measured in months, maintenance can be carried out without the need for drydocking and payloads up to 32ft in length can be accommodated – these include mines, torpedoes and other weapon systems. The system is already in service with several operators, in applications ranging from tactical missions to research.
WAVE GLIDER/SHARC is an unmanned surface vehicle (USV) developed by Liquid Robotics which, after two years of successful cooperation with Boeing, became part of the Autonomous Systems Division in December 2016. Capable of delivering real-time data as an individual vessel or in networked groups, WAVE GLIDER is powered by wave and solar energies and can stay at sea for up to a year. Boeing officials state that it is the most robust and versatile USV in existence, with 1.3 million nautical miles at sea to date. The Sensor Hosting Autonomous Remote Craft (SHARC) variant has a range of different mission-specific payloads and sensors. Both vessels can be used for persistent maritime observation, data collection and acoustic monitoring for extended periods without servicing, using a wide range of sensors including the Automated Identification Service (AIS) system, acoustic or electromagnetic sensors and imaging systems, all connected to a shore C2 infrastructure via both line-of-sight and satellite communications. The on-board modular, open architecture and inclusion of commercial-off-the-shelf components allows rapid integration of new technologies and payloads. To date, more than 50 different sensors have been integrated and field tested.
A single shore-based operator can monitor and control large fleets of these USVs for a variety of missions, including anti-submarine or anti-surface warfare, maritime surveillance, ISR, environmental monitoring or mineral exploitation missions, enabling truly cost-effective mission execution with minimal personnel or establishment costs.
In the airborne domain, Boeing offers the Insitu SCANEAGLE and RQ-21A BLACKJACK, the S-100 CAMCOPTER (in partnership with Austrian manufacturer Schiebel) and the QF-16. The US Coast Guard, for example, uses the SCANEAGLE extensively in a counter-narcotics role and the company is also using the UAS to illustrate and demonstrate the Manned-Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T) capability of the AH-64E APACHE helicopter.
Boeing is planning to bring large-scale UAS airspace access systems (INEXA solution) to the market, using subsidiary company Insitu’s INEXA solution. Providing data analytics and airspace awareness to operators and facilitating safe integration of UAS operations in civil airspace, the solution is currently being evaluated in trials using SCANEAGLE with oil and gas companies in Australia.