Supersized submarine slated to explore the seas by itself
A 50-foot yacht is likely to include at least a couple of cabins, multiple bathrooms, and maybe some perks like a mini-bar or entertainment center. Boeing’s latest vessel trades all that in though, packing it’s 51-foot hull with with sensors, backup systems, and a unique hybrid power plant. No luxuries, or even life support, are installed on the Echo Voyager at all, because with this ship, humans are supposed to stay on shore. The Echo Voyager pilots itself.
Simpler without sailors
As an unmanned undersea vehicle (UUV), yachts may not be a fair comparison to the Echo Voyager. The submarine is really on the opposite end of the spectrum from a luxury cruiser, as one of its primary design features is that people are minimally involved in its operation. We’ve been using autonomous and remote-controlled vehicles to explore the oceans for decades, starting with the Special Purpose Underwater Research Vehicle in 1957. However, limits on range or automation often effectively tethered these machines to a piloted ship or base on the water’s surface, which can greatly complicate logistics and costs for a long voyage. The Echo Voyager, on the other hand, has a range of 7,500 miles, far enough to cross the Pacific Ocean between California and Hong Kong. It can therefore be deployed on a mission months long, radioing back data via satellite, reminiscent more of a Mars rover than a traditional boat.
Traveling for thousands of miles is possible thanks to the submarine’s rechargeable batteries and diesel engine. Like some hybrid cars, or certain dump trucks, the diesel engine is used just to recharge the lithium-ion or silver zinc batteries, with a fuel supply that should last around six months. This charging requires that the Echo Voyager occasionally surfaces to recharge, mainly to vent exhaust into the air instead of the sea, but it should be able to manage it’s power supply on it’s own. The rest of the hull carries space for sensors and redundant equipment in case of failures in the middle of a journey. No specific research equipment is installed in the base design, as it’s intended to be a platform for scientists, energy companies, or extreme robot enthusiasts to make use of as necessary.
At this point, the submarine is still being tested, mostly in a pool in Huntington Beach, California. Diving to 35 feet is a far cry from the intended depths of 11,000 feet, so testing is slated to move to the actual ocean this summer. In the mean time, people will have to endure going out to see the ocean themselves a bit longer.
Source: Boeing’s Monstrous Underwater Robot Can Wander the Ocean for 6 Months by Alex Davies, Wired