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New Collaboration Aims to Create Autonomous Riverine Craft

The continuing rise of unmanned autonomous vehicles has seen a focus on aerial vehicles. That doesn’t mean that there haven’t been notable successes on land and on and under the sea, but rather that they have garnered far less news attention. So seems the case with the recent announcement of the beginning of a three-year collaboration between Swiftships Shipbuilders LLC and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette that is aimed at developing an autonomously navigable military boat.

Anaconda

Swiftships has settled on the Anaconda, a 35-foot special operations craft riverine that is capable of 50+ knots with up to 14 passengers, as the platform that they want to use to test autonomous technology. Swiftships photo

The collaboration will focus on modifying the 35-foot Anaconda, an existing platform that made an appearance at Emerald Warrior 2013. The diesel-powered Anaconda is a riverine special operations craft that is designed to operate in both salt and fresh water environments. The versatile craft is designed to operate in sea state two and to survive in sea state four. The Swiftship’s project management team has worked to develop real world applications for the Anaconda, such as reconnaissance, enforcement, asset protection, and emergency response, but views the partnership with the University of Louisiana at Lafayette as being vital to developing the necessary autonomous technology for the Anaconda. “Our relationship with the University of Louisiana at Lafayette is a significant piece of our developing team. The application of autonomous technology has far-reaching implications for our entire inland shipping industry,” said Eric Geibel, the director of special programs for Swiftships.

“Our relationship with the University of Louisiana at Lafayette is a significant piece of our developing team. The application of autonomous technology has far-reaching implications for our entire inland shipping industry.”

The University of Louisiana at Lafayette makes an ideal collaborator with the Morgan City, La.-based Swiftships, thanks to their experience creating the autonomous CajunBot all-terrain vehicle in 2004. The CajunBot twice competed alongside other universities in Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Grand Challenge events. Dr. Arun Lakhotia, a professor of computer science, and Joshua Vaughan, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, will attempt to apply lessons learned from the CajunBot toward the creation of an autonomous Anaconda. “We’ll begin with some basic goals, such as getting the boat to operate autonomously in relatively calm water and to follow simple patterns, such as a straight line or simple turns. As the project continues, we’ll be developing more complex tasks,” said Lakhotia. The University of Louisiana at Lafayette will be the lead developer for the autonomous technology that will applied to the Anaconda.

CajunBot

The University of Louisiana at Lafayette makes a natural partner for Swiftships, thanks to their experience developing the CajunBot. The CajunBot competed in two Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Grand Challenge events. University of Louisiana at Lafayette photo

Swiftships has a deep knowledge base to call upon in building small and medium-sized riverine craft, thanks to being an offshoot of Sewart Seacraft. Sewart Seacraft designed and built some of the swift boats that were used to good effect by the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War. “It is part of the Swiftships heritage to be at the forefront of technology,” said Geibel.

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Steven Hoarn is the Editor/Photo Editor for Defense Media Network. He is a graduate of...