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DARPA seeks crawling, burrowing river-recce sub bot

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US weapons'n'rockets company Alliant Techsystems (ATK) has won a small military contract related to a planned underwater robot. The Unmanned Underwater Riverine Craft (UURC) will carry out "clandestine surveillance tasks in riverine and shallow water environments" using "bottom locomotion (crawling)" mode and "burrowing" abilities.

The ATK contract award for $494,254 was announced yesterday, but details on the UURC project can be found in here.

It would seem that America's enemies had best keep a close eye on their rivers and estuaries, which will soon be literally crawling with partly-submerged lurkerbots:

There is an operational need to carry out clandestine surveillance tasks in riverine and shallow water environments [within] denied, sensitive or contested areas.

For these, a UURC is needed with capabilities to: navigate submerged in rivers, inlets, and harbors as well as in coastal and shallow water areas; provide persistence in these areas and, provide underwater surveillance (against waterborne traffic, underwater obstacles, bottom and buried objects, specific vessels of interest) with onboard and deployable sensors under low visibility conditions.

It won't be simple to catch the mud-crawling bottom-creeper machines: they will twist and turn, burrow into the muck or perhaps even eject an inky cloud like a startled squid. The UURC will:

Be capable of autonomous operation and evasion procedures underwater (maneuver, burrowing, use of obscurants, hibernation mode) ...

The slithering aquadroids will be able to pop up infrared nightsight periscopes, and will of course include sonar and acoustic sensors. They will also, seemingly, feature "new methods of sensing including ... touch" and be able to drop off or otherwise deploy "listening devices, tagging devices and other packages".

Normally such a droid, unable to use conventional engines, would be sharply limited by battery endurance. But the UURC will also have "the ability to regenerate or harvest power for sustained endurance operation or to be able to enter a 'sleep' mode for sustained periods".

One need hardly add that the UURC is being promoted by the famous wingnut-boffins of DARPA, where tomorrow's world is yesterday's news and the only place to keep your brain is in a bubbling jar remotely linked to a huge, powerful robot or brainchipped-gorilla body.

The UURC is to be deployable by "subsurface launch", which could see it setting out to reconnoitre enemy rivers from DARPA's planned flying submarine: or alternatively from relatively humdrum nuclear-powered Stingray-esque submarine motherships crammed with cruise missiles and elite frogman-commando throatcutters.

Or more likely, of course, as with most DARPA projects it will never come into use. But the Pentagon brainiacs have so many wacky projects that now and then one is sure to pay off. ®

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