DIU is tapping into Nauticus Robotics to develop an amphibious mine-hunting drone

Aquanaut is Nauticus Robotics’ flagship product and uses the same autonomous software as the upcoming DIU amphibious robot. (Illustration provided by Nauticus Robotics.)

The Defense Innovation Unit last week awarded a contract to Nauticus Robotics to develop an amphibious robot capable of helping Marines clear shallow waters from mines and make the difficult transition from sea to land, according to a company executive.

The contract, which neither DIU nor Nauticus was willing to disclose its value, has two components: The first is to modify a commercial-ready robot to make it suitable for difficult crossings between land and sea. The second part is for Nauticus to adapt its standalone software, called ToolKITT, to make it able to guide the amphibious robot around obstacles and identify undersea mines as well as other targets of interest.

“If only you could crawl on the bottom in the sand [and] “I’ve come across a track record or a hindrance going forward,” Donnelly Bohan, chief operating officer of Nauticus, told Breaking Defense on October 4, the day before the announcement. “You don’t know if it’s six feet in one direction or 20 feet. Our technology will allow you, you know, to swim over it.”

The DIU program, called the Autonomous Amphibious Response Vehicle, is the latest in the Pentagon’s attempts to take the “man out of the minefield.” For the Navy and Marine Corps, one of the most desirable uses for unmanned, autonomous vehicles is to counter subsea mines without having to send humans into harm’s way.

After Nauticus was announced, DIU said on October 12 that she also chose Nauticus GRENCI SYSTEMS from a pool of 67 potential vendors for a “quick competitive prototyping effort.” Both teams will submit prototype vehicles to the Marine Corps for evaluation by the fall of 2023, according to the DIU . statement. Nauticus will deliver its Terranaut drone while Greenseas, in partnership with Bayonet Ocean Vehicles, will offer the Bayonet-250 crawler.

“DIU prototypes will reduce operator risk by allowing them to provide mere human control over one or more autonomous vehicles,” DIU program manager Alex Oliver told Breaking Defense. “In addition to [explosive ordnance disposal] mission, this class of vehicles has a clear utility for a range of military missions – from reconnaissance to force protection. ”

According to Bohan, the challenge of doing this in a coastal area with a robot presents a variety of transit challenges. For example, a drone must be able to maintain pressure on the sea floor to have enough drag for its trajectories to move it from the water to land. It should also have the appropriate sensors that can detect debris and other items that might get in their way while moving from one point to another.

What separates DIU from other military research agencies is its mission to engage companies outside the traditional defense contracting world. And this is exactly where I found Nauticus.

Bohan said the company was founded seven years ago by a group of former NASA employees whose basic skills centered on using robots in space. The company soon saw the possibility of moving from robotics in space to the marine environment and began to engage with the military, because some of the employees had backgrounds in the Marine Corps.

The Nauticus drone will be adapted to DIU and dubbed Mission Specialist Defender, which is produced by VideoRay, and is already in use by some US Navy programs. Bohan described the drone as “portable for two men” and small enough to fit in a home office desk.

Bohan also said that Nauticus’ self-operating software, ToolKITT, is designed to change based on the platform and will be tailored to meet the DIU. The software is currently being used in Nauticus’ commercial drone product, Aquanaut.

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