Picture what it would be like if Jaws were a robot that worked for the U.S. military and you've got GhostSwimmer, the Navy's new autonomous underwater drone.
The Navy calls it the latest in a series of "science-fiction-turned-reality" projects to come out of its Silent NEMO experiments for developing unmanned biomimetic vehicles. That is, driverless subs that mimic biology -- in this case, the biology of sharks.
"It swims just like a fish does by oscillating its tail fin back and forth," said Michael Rufo, director of the Advanced Systems Group at Boston Engineering that designed GhostSwimmer.
The resemblance is striking. The drone is about five feet long and weighs almost 100 pounds. It can hover just below the water's surface or dive as far as 300 feet down while gathering data on tides, currents, wakes, weather conditions -- and eventually on surveillance and reconnaissance missions. Its decidedly fishlike appearance will prove particularly useful during those "low visibility intelligence" operations.
The drone is able to operate autonomously, or it can be attached to a laptop by a 500-foot tether and driven from on board another vessel, in which case the data it collects can be transmitted in real time. (Otherwise, it has to come to the surface to for periodic data dumps.)
"GhostSwimmer will allow the Navy to have success during more types of missions while keeping divers and Sailors safe," Rufo said.