Call them sea drones, dronaughts, or roboats, the Navy demonstrated a swarm of remotely-controlled boats on the James River in Virginia this August. As if animated by the same mind, the 13 patrol boats all moved in unison, their crewless decks painting a picture of what warfare may soon become. The project, by the Office of Naval Research (ONR), wants to save both lives and costs, keeping sailors out of harms way while still keeping boats in the water.
Key to the boats is a program named Control Architecture for Robotic Agent Command and Sensing, or CARACaS. According to the ONR, CARACaS "allows boats to operate autonomously, without a sailor physically needing to be at the controls—including operating in sync with other unmanned vessels; choosing their own routes; swarming to interdict enemy vessels; and escorting/protecting naval assets."
In the demonstration, the Navy boats first escorted a "high value unit," simulating a ring of robotic bodyguards around a vessel in a narrow part of the sea. Then, with the support of a manned helicopter overhead designating a "contact of interest" for the boats to intercept, they swarmed around their target.