Australian Navy eyes-off autonomous water drone to patrol our coastline and identify security threats

A ground breaking new unmanned surface vehicle, with the potential to revolutionise coastal surveillance operations has caught the eye of the Australian Navy.

Ocius Technology, a NSW company, has developed an unmanned surface vehicle (USV) called the Bluebottle which can be used for a variety of defensive, maritime or military purposes.

CEO of Ocius Technologies Robert Dane said the vessels – measuring just 18 feet in length, never run out of power and travel at a steady 5 knots.

“They can be sent out to sea for months at a time to roam the ocean autonomously,” said Dane. “They are fitted with sonar sensors to detect submarines and other surface vessels, or marine life such as dolphins and whales.”

How the Bluebottle works

The Bluebottles use wind and wave energy to propel themselves – as well as solar power. They are equipped with a solar sail which captures the wind, as well as energy, while the keel system is designed to capture wave power. The water drones are also fitted with anti-collision software, which allows it to detect any other vessel and automatically alter course to avoid a collision.

Could this be Australia’s next silent alarm?

Dane said the benefits to the defence industry are enormous.

“Because the drones use the power of the waves and the wind to navigate, the majority of the solar power is used to run the vessels, including communications and on-board system,” he said.

Fitted with cameras, they can monitor the ocean surrounding Australia and then send an alert if a threat is detected, allowing manned Navy crews to scramble if required.

“The drones, which can travel at up to five knots, are perfect for dull, dirty and dangerous work and particularly anti-submarine warfare, mine counter-measures and guarding fisheries and marine areas,” said Dane.

Dane said a network of USV’s could be deployed around the country, providing nationwide coastal security.

“They would operate as a team and cover a large area at low cost and with no-one put in harm’s way,” Mr Dane said. “They would be like a silent alarm.”

He said the USV’s were cost effective and could compliment Australia’s existing capabilities with potentially hundreds deployed at sea to conduct maritime surveillance of Australia’s vast coastline.

Hundreds of Bluebottles could be deployed to conduct maritime surveillance

“Three hundred USV’s could provide full security coverage of Australia’s north and at $500,000 they are a fraction of the cost of manned vessels.”

Border security, oil and gas & illegal fishing

But Defence isn’t the only application for the Bluebottle. The Bluebottle may also be used for surveillance operations for border protection and crime prevention.

“We’ve had enquiries from the South Pacific, for people who want to guard their fishing areas against illegal fishing.”

Another application for the Bluebottle is the oil and gas industry.

“The USV’s can be used to monitor an environment around an oil rig but also to provide a security ring around a rig – to give over-the-horizon detection of small boats coming in that might have sinister intent,” said Dane.

Dane’s business partner, Ocius Technology Chairman Mark Bethwaite, is no stranger to water, having competed at the 1972 and 1976 Olympic Games in sailing in the Flying Dutchman class.

Dane & Bethwaite Bluebottle partners

The pair teamed up while Dane was designing hybrid ferries.

“The diesel, and solar-hybrid, was a bit like a Prius,” Mr Bethwaite said. “I had admired Dane’s work in applying solar energy to in the marine space.

Bethwaite said the global unmanned surface vessel (USV) market for defence applications alone is estimated to be worth around $4 billion by 2020.

The Bluebottle will be on display from October 8th at Pacific 2019 one of the world’s largest biannual defence and maritime industry events.

The expo is sponsored by the NSW Department of Industry and part of Deputy Premier John Barilaro’s efforts to showcase the strengths and capabilities of the NSW defence sector. “NSW is an ideal location for sustainable, globally-competitive and technologically advanced defence industries to flourish and prosper,” said Mr Barilaro.