Unmanned undersea vehicles (UUVs) have been a staple of sea exploration for years now, yet they’ve always had a limitation: They’ve needed constant support from a human crew on a surface ship above, which adds to the vehicle’s costs. These UUVs have also either been required to be tethered to the support ship on the surface, limiting the UUV’s range, or to return to it to charge its batteries, limiting how long it can explore the ocean depths and also requiring the support ship to follow nearby. But those limitations are about to be a thing of the past, thanks to Boeing’s new UUV called the Echo Voyager, Wired reports.
The Echo Voyager was created by Boeing’s Phantom Works research and development division and is capable of exploring the oceans for six months at a time without the need to return to a surface ship, due to the better technology packed into the UUV. As with most other UUVs, the Echo Voyager has lithium-ion or silver zinc batteries that allow it to operate for a few days at a time. However, unlike other UUVs, the 50-ton Echo Voyager also has a built-in diesel generator that can recharge the batteries. This is why the Echo Voyager doesn’t need to return to a surface ship to recharge.
When the Echo Voyager needs a recharge, it will simply break the surface and run the diesel generator there so the exhaust created can be discharged into the air. Once the batteries are charged again, the Echo Voyager simply dives back down to where it was and continues exploring.
Because of its battery-recharging capabilities, the Echo Voyager is free to roam up to 7,500 miles from any surface support ship. It’s also able to link up with satellites to upload any data it finds to operators on land. Wired says the Echo Voyager will find customers in the scientific, underwater engineering, and oil and gas industries when it becomes commercially available. First Boeing needs to finish tests on it, including testing it in its 35-foot deep research pool in Huntington Beach, California and then along the coast of California in open-sea trials this summer.