The recent Advanced Naval Technologies Exercise (ANTX) was an impressive demonstration of advanced unmanned systems. Over the course of two days, in two separate but thematically linked locations, dozens of technology concepts were mobilized and demonstrated. Hundreds of participants and visitors from government and industry saw what current unmanned vehicles can do. In retrospect, it is clear that these demos, viewed as a whole, are a further demonstration of the Digital Ocean vision, albeit on a small scale. Several factors connect this vision with the ANTX results:
1. Unmanned undersea vehicles (UUVs) and unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) were considered a given.
This does not mean that UUV/USV technologies were not appreciated, but it was clear that each demo began with the assumption that the UUV/USV components were available and effective. The base foundation of reliable ocean robots was there to build upon for more complex demonstrations.
2. Connectivity was key.
In many forms, digital connectivity was core to ANTX ideas. While the use of video systems to link the two demo sites was novel, the application in unmanned maritime vessel (UMV) operations is the real utility. In some cases, like capability demonstrated by Boeing and Liquid Robotics, telemetry supported positioning; in others, it connected undersea systems to their operators. Advanced connectivity in the form of a novel full duplex undersea acoustic network was also on display.
3. Combined operations were common.
Nearly every demonstration showed the combination of multiple systems. In some cases, multiple undersea vehicles were used together. In others, aerial vehicles interacted with autonomous power docks floating on the surface. In others, UUVs deployed aerial vehicles. There were no flagship stand-alone UMVs on display, rather teamwork and creative combinations of technology were required to achieve mission objectives.
These general concepts are equally key to enabling the future Digital Ocean. When one considers that dozens of relevant, distinctive, demonstrations were prepared for ANTX in less than a year, the idea of an operational Digital Ocean is entirely reasonable. With further refinement of application requirements and an appropriate selection of technology components, and partners, it is only a matter of time before combinations of connected UMVs become routine.