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AN-2 Unveiled: Swiftships and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Collaboration Bears Fruit

The collaboration between Swiftships Shipbuilders LLC and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette to develop an autonomously navigable military boat took a leap forward on Feb. 18.

“Ultimately, we could see this vessel being operated in small groups with a command module that goes with it, that could be rapidly deployed into the field.”

The 35-foot prototype Anaconda, designated AN-2, is designed to be an autonomous riverine craft capable of supporting military operation on inland waters. “Ultimately, we could see this vessel being operated in small groups with a command module that goes with it, that could be rapidly deployed into the field,” said Eric Geibel, the director of special programs for Swiftships. Missions envisioned for the AN-2 include research, special operations forces operations, marine interdiction, coast guard obligations, and port security.

AN-2

The AN-2 was controlled via an iPad and performed in front of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette team, Swiftships employees, U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.), and U.S. Department of Commerce trade specialist Brie Knox. Swiftships photo

During the demonstration the AN-2 was controlled via an iPad by Joshua Vaughn, an assistant professor in the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s mechanical engineering department. Vaughn leads the team that includes mechanical engineering graduate students Nicholas Bergeron and Brett Marks.

The initial technology demonstrated on Feb. 18 is part of a broader effort to develop additional capabilities for the AN-2. The Swiftships and University of Louisiana at Lafayette collaboration envisions lasers, cameras, ultra-sound, and other sensors helping the AN-2 detect obstacles in the water and oncoming boats. Information generated by that technology would be fed to an almost sentient computer system that would steer and accelerate the AN-2 like a human pilot would.

The Swiftships and University of Louisiana at Lafayette collaboration envisions lasers, cameras, ultra-sound, and other sensors helping the AN-2 detect obstacles in the water and oncoming boats. Information generated by that technology would be fed to an almost sentient computer system that would steer and accelerate the AN-2 like a human pilot would.

The AN-2 performed in the presence of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette team, Swiftships employees, U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.), and U.S. Department of Commerce trade specialist Brie Knox. Boustany seemed to recognize the potential for jobs for the region, in addition to possible military applications. “It’s very maneuverable and quiet, but at the end of the day, all this means is that Louisiana can be part of the renaissance of shipbuilding for the entire U.S., which will allow us to export this kind of technology,” said Boustany. The vision of shipbuilding jobs for the Gulf Coast is something Geibel sought to encourage. “The application of autonomous technology has far reaching implications for the entire inland shipping industry,” said Geibel.

The Morgan City, La.-based Swiftships’ decision to pair with the University of Louisiana at Lafayette went deeper than just geographic proximity. The University of Louisiana at Lafayette developed the autonomous CajunBot all-terrain vehicle in 2004. The CajunBot was entered by the University of Louisiana at Lafayette into two Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Grand Challenges. “Our relationship with the University of Louisiana at Lafayette is a significant piece of our developing team,” said Geibel.

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