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by Jeff and Jenn Eckert
Navy Orders Minebots
It's not as if maritime mines are a new problem, as they have been
around in crude form at least since the 16th century when a Chinese
general (QI Jiguang) used them to fight Japanese pirates. Today, it is
estimated that about 50 countries around the world stock more than a
quarter million naval mines and could drop them into the oceans at any
time. While a practical mine can cost as little as $1,000 to build, it is
much more expensive (and dangerous) to retrieve and deactivate it. If
you think minesweeping sounds like a perfect job for robots, you're
right! The US Navy's answer is Knifefish: an underwater drone that will
eventually be assigned to a fleet of littoral combat ships (i.e., small
surface vessels that operate close to shore). On the outside, it looks
much like a torpedo, but the Knifefish is a smart, autonomous, and
sophisticated undersea minehunting bot. The 20 ft long robot uses low
frequency broadband synthetic aperture sonar to locate mines and
generate high-res images of detected objects, allowing it to tell the
difference between real mines and most submerged debris. The bot operates for about 16 hours on a lithium battery
charge, after which it returns collected information to the mothership. Eventually, the Navy hopes to deploy larger drones
that can actually blow up encountered mines. Eight units are scheduled to be built by General Dynamics Corp.
( www.generaldynamics.com) and Bluefin Robotics Corp. ( www.bluefinrobotics.com), and are to be deployed by
2016. They're a little pricey at more than $20 million each, but that's a lot cheaper than losing a battleship.
The Knifefish mine-hunting robot, unveiled last
April at the Sea-Air-Space Exposition.
Drone ‘Copter Sets Record
The K-MAX unmanned cargo hauler
lifts up to 6,000 lb.
Developed in a joint project by Lockheed Martin ( www.lockheedmartin.com)
and Kaman Aerospace ( www.kaman.com/aerospace), the K-MAX cargo hauler
already had the distinction of being the first unmanned helicopter to deliver cargo
and resupply troops in any combat zone; in this case, Afghanistan. Two units have
been running six daily missions, delivering slings weighing up to 4,200 lb, with
record deliveries totaling as much as 28,800 lb in a single day. After less than four
months, the choppers passed the milestone of one million pounds delivered.
According to Kaman, "The aircraft can carry more cargo on its four-hook carousel
to more locations in one flight than any other unmanned rotary wing platform. Its
intermeshing rotors eliminate the need for a tail rotor and allow for significantly
improved lift performance and lower maintenance costs." The K-MAX can actually
lift as much as 6,000 lb at sea level, but high altitudes in mountainous regions
reduce the payload somewhat.
In addition, the company announced at the end of May that the K-MAX made
aviation history by performing a "hot hookup," meaning that it can now swoop in,
pick up military gear, and fly away without bothering to land. This capability could
eventually eliminate the need for a human operator to control the vehicle.
Just FYI, Kaman Aerospace is a division of Kaman Corp., which also proffers
products for missile and bomb safing and fuzing, high precision LIDAR and
eddy-current sensing, specialty bearings and engineered products, and (what?)
8 SERVO 08.2012