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Swiftships: UL Lafayette develops unmanned boat for military

Photo provided by UL Lafayette.
Monday, October 21, 2013 - 11:44am

The University of Louisiana at Lafayette and Swiftships Shipbuilders LLC are working together to develop a military boat capable of autonomous navigation.

"We're modifying the Anaconda, a 35-foot boat that's designed primarily for military use. By adding the capability of unmanned operation, we can increase ease of deployment and minimize threats to military personnel," said Shehraze Shah, Swiftships' chief executive officer.

The vessel, which was designed for the U.S. Navy, is ideal for river operations. It is fast, quiet, agile and can be driven in shallow water. U.S. and Canadian special operations teams have used the boat, a special operations craft-riverine, for training exercises.

Swiftships enlisted the University’s help to enhance the Anaconda because of its expertise in control systems, sensors and robotics.

Dr. Arun Lakhotia, a professor of computer science, and Dr. Joshua Vaughan, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, will apply technology that was used to create CajunBot, an autonomous all-terrain vehicle, in 2004.

CajunBot twice competed with some of the nation’s most prestigious universities in an elite Grand Challenge held by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. DARPA is the central research and development agency for the U.S. Department of Defense. The goal was to build a ground vehicle capable of unmanned navigation.

Now, Lakhotia, Vaughan and other researchers from UL Lafayette have begun a three-year research program to modify the Anaconda.

“We’ll begin with some basic goals, such as getting the boat to operate autonomously in relatively calm water and to follow simple patterns, such as a straight line or simple turns. As the project continues, we'll be developing more complex tasks,” Lakhotia explained.

Dr. Ramesh Kolluru, interim vice president for Research, said this public-private partnership will give undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to engage in hands-on research.

"Swiftships is looking to UL Lafayette to serve as a partner to provide training on the Anaconda, which will create opportunities in workforce and economic development," he added.

Swiftships, based in Morgan City, La., is an offshoot of Sewart Seacraft, which developed swift boats for the U.S. military in the 1960s. The boats were used during the Vietnam War to transport troops and patrol coastal and inland waterways in Vietnam.

Shah said the partnership will enable Swiftships "to enhance its capabilities for military and other applications."

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