Deep-Sea Robots Sleep On Ocean Floor Until Needed

Deep-Sea Robots Sleep On Ocean Floor Until Needed

The U.S. Government is developing mission-critical pods to lie dormant at sea until activation.

Ryan Gerhardt
  • 23 january 2013

Over 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered by water. Of this, over 95 percent is in the oceans. With the Earth being nearly 25,000 miles around, that’s a lot of surface area to cover. So how can the U.S. Navy respond with real-time help while bridging the vast distances?

Easy: deep-sea robots.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is currently seeking proposals for work on a project dubbed ‘Upward Falling Payloads.’ Essentially, the program is looking to develop ‘deployable, unmanned, distributed systems that lie on the deep-ocean floor in special containers for years at a time,’ until they are awoken and recalled to the surface (or ‘fall upwards’). With an increasing strain on military resources, DARPA is looking for an initiative that doesn’t rely on expensive ‘legacy ships’ and platforms.

The goal is to be able to hide these ‘sleeping’ robots around the globe in order to facilitate an easier, faster, and more effective tactical response for U.S. operations and logistics. With ‘almost half’ of the Earth’s oceans being more than two and a half miles deep, hiding robotic pods shouldn’t be a problem. However, recalling them to the surface may be.



The key areas of need covered in the agency announcement for ‘Upward Falling Payloads’ are to:

demonstrate a system that can: (a) Survive for years under extreme pressure, (b) Reliably be triggered from standoff commands, and (c) Rapidly rise through the water column and deploy a non-lethal payload.

The DARPA announcement calls on those with backgrounds in ‘unmanned platforms,’ ‘distributed sensors,’ and ‘anti-submarine warfare,’ among others. DARPA has laid out more explicitly what they’re envisioning from the project, but plenty is still left up to the imagination:

Depending on the specific payload, systems would provide a range of non-lethal but useful capabilities such as situational awareness, disruption, deception, networking, rescue, or any other mission that benefits from being pre-distributed and hidden. An example class of systems might be small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that launch to the surface in capsules, take off and provide aerial situational awareness, networking or decoy functions.

A ‘Proposers’ Day’ will be held later this week on January 25th for U.S. contractors to learn more about the project.

This program could prove significant for payloads whose deployment is time sensitive. Plus, with engineers ‘from the telecom and oil-exploration industry’ onboard with proposals, we’re wondering how long it’ll be before we can get a deep-sea robot of our own.


Images via DARPA and UC San Diego

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