SAN DIEGO - A sleek vessel with a triple hull and 6-story-tall mast will leave San Diego Bay this fall for the open waters of the Pacific Ocean in a show of the potential of unmanned watercraft.
The craft will be the latest prototype of the first "Harbor Wing," which has plied the waters off Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, for several years as a concept vehicle for an autonomous unmanned surface vessel. This unmanned boat is like a seagoing robot that provides the eyes and ears - and information and intelligence - without the need for humans aboard.
"I've removed the sailor from the sailing," said Mark Ott, executive vice president of Harbor Wing Technologies, who built the first prototype with a catamaran he bought for $12,000 to fill a Navy need for unmanned surface vessels.
Buoyed by the Navy's input and $10 million in research and development funds, Ott's company intends to get its second Harbor Wing, dubbed X-2, sailing by September once construction and final assembly of the 40-by-50-foot, 10-ton craft is completed. The company showed off a model this month during the annual Coalition Warrior Interoperability Demonstration, hosted by Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center-Pacific's C2 technologies and experimentation division.
With a composite mast mirroring the famous "sail wing" that gives America's Cup contenders their speed, and an all-electric engine for backup, Harbor Wing is designed as a fast and modular sailing platform outfitted with radar, sonar, cameras, navigation and a collision-avoidance system. It also will house advanced network communications and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems.
The vessel is controlled by radios and a commercial global positioning satellite system that Ott said allows it to sail "within three meters of accuracy." It could be used for missions including coastal surveillance, counterdrug, interception operations and patrols for the Navy and Coast Guard, company officials say.
Although Harbor Wing will operate without a captain and crew by sailing on a pre-programmed course, "the man is always in the loop," Ott said.
An operator, seated at a computer that could be hundreds of miles away, can control the craft with keystrokes that relay commands via satellite.
The transmission gap, from order to receipt, is only 18 seconds, which "on the open ocean is not much," he said, "so you have very close control."
While unmanned, Harbor Wing won't necessarily be a sitting duck if it enters a more hostile environment.
"It will have a multilayered self-defense capability," said Ott, noting possible systems like sound, noxious gases and lasers to thwart threats and prevent someone from commandeering the craft.
"The boat can also be told it's time to run," he said, and it can reach 15 knots under sail or 30 knots with the engine running.
The triple-hull, hydrofoil design planned for the third vessel, X-3, will serve as "great big shock absorbers" and give the vessel greater sea legs, he added, enabling it to operate up to Sea State 5 - that's 6-foot waves and moderate winds - and survive in rougher waters up to Sea State 8, or 18-foot waves, without upending itself.
The X-2 vessel will encounter higher sea states off San Diego than the first craft endured in Hawaii during longer periods at sea to further test technologies, Ott said.
President Larry Colangelo said the company hopes to send X-2 to Hawaii and back to San Diego on orders but with a manned boat trailing along.
About HWT X-3
Specifications for Harbor Wing Technologies' third prototype, a triple-hull hydrofoil.
å Length: 50 feet
å Beam: 40 feet
å Mast height: 60 feet
å Draft (hydrofoils lowered): 10 feet
å Payload: 1,500 pounds
å Stowage capacity: 600 cubic feet
å Speed: 25-plus knots
å Time at sea: 3-plus months
Source: Harbor Wing Technologies