Complaints abound about unnecessary military spending in the United States, but at least the Navy is doing its part to cut down on the really ridiculous things, like spending $500 million each year on maintenance to make sure that barnacles, oysters, and algae don’t end up on ship hulls. It’s a serious problem–so-called “biofouling” reduces ship speed by up to 10% and adds up to 40% in fuel costs. And now the Naval Materials Divison of ONR’s Sea Warfare and Weapons Department hopes to tackle the issue with–wait for it–an autonomous hull-grooming robot.
The Bio-inspired Underwater Grooming Tool (BUG) putters around on the underwater portion of a ship’s hull with an onboard biofilm detector that senses and removes marine biofilm and organisms before they are attached.
So far, BUG has yielded impressive results in field tests with Navy sailors. Once the technology is commercialized, it could save cash and fuel for shipping boats that spend most of their time in the water. Perhaps most importantly, BUG’s fuel-saving capabilities can reduce the impact of an industry that is responsible for three percent of global CO2 emissions. The next step: making sure that BUG is cheap enough for mass use.