Monday, April 11, 2011

From Israeli Shores with Love: A Floating Knight Rider

From Israeli Shores with Love: A Floating Knight Rider: "

Remember that Simpsons episode where Bart watches a Knight Rider reboot? The one where Kitt is a self-driving boat? An Israeli company evidently watched and thought, Hmm, not a bad idea.

Meet the Silver Marlin, an 11-meter unmanned surface vessel that’s currently residing in Haifa harbor. It’s built by Elbit Systems, whose American offshoot is manning the showroom floor on Monday at the Navy League’s annual Sea Air Space confab just outside Washington. It’s just your standard autonomous robot boat, armed with a .50-caliber machine gun, maneuvering around buoys in a harbor thanks to its package of electro-optic sensors and 360-degree panoramic cameras.

So, um. The Knight Rider of boats? “That’s exactly right,” says retired Rear Adm. Mark Milliken, a vice president for Elbit’s U.S. branch.

Simpsons nerds will recall that Bart gets disillusioned with the seafaring Kitt when he realizes the show’s writers lazily sneak in fjords or inlets to the plots so it can fight crime. The Silver Marlin isn’t as contrived in its relevance: coastal defense; or protecting an offshore oil rig; or, say, placement “in front of a small flotilla,” Milliken says. (Before you ask: the vessel’s been in development for about two and a half years, he explains, well before last year’s Gaza flotilla incident.)

Elbit wants to convince the U.S. Navy of the virtues of its robo-boat for other missions, too: launch from a Littoral Combat Ship to protect against small-boat “swarming” threats to the Navy’s close-to-the-coast tactics. Or even counterpiracy. While the Silver Marlin can operate autonomously, a satellite downlink to a control station puts it in remote control mode. Which is what you want, Milliken notes, when you’re talking about firing a weapon at a hostile craft.

Might not be such a hard sell: the Navy’s been experimenting with the concept of drone vessels for years, and particularly with an eye toward thwarting pirates. Its long-range research division, the Office of Naval Research, reconfigured existing boats to turn them into drones. Send ‘em into maritime danger without fear they’ll be blown up. “So long as there’s not a human on board,” Milliken says, “I’m not so concerned with survivability.”

Photo: Spencer Ackerman

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...