New Manta Ray Underwater Drone for High-Endurance Missions

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Northrop Grumman Corporation announced a new unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) prototype called the Manta Ray, which can reportedly carry out long-range, extended-duration, and large payload-capable underwater operations. Developed as part of DARPA, the Manta Ray boasts critical technologies that would help future UUV designs, with low-power propulsion, enhanced cargo capacity, and energy management.

DARPA stated that the Manta Ray initiative aims to demonstrate key technologies for a new generation of long-range, long-duration UUVs carrying payloads. If successful, this new class of UUVs will operate independently of human vessels and ports once deployed, promising to enhance the combatant commander’s capability without interfering with ongoing operations.

According to Interesting Engineering, Northrop Grumman characterizes the prototype as an “extra-large glider” that draws inspiration from the shape and movement of the manta ray. While traditional gliders rely solely on variable-buoyancy propulsion, Northrop’s design incorporates thrusters or propellers for forward motion.

The Manta Ray drone can gather energy from the surroundings and anchor to the seafloor in a low-power state and is equipped with “energy-saving technologies.” The company teamed up with renewable energy company Seatrec to develop an energy-harvesting technology that can provide continuous power to the Manta Ray, enabling extended missions over vast distances and durations.

While many UUVs encounter issues with limited energy storage capacity, the “Mission Unlimited Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (UUV) Station” by Northrop-Seatrec aims to eliminate this problem. It integrates Seatrec’s Thermal Energy Pod, which harnesses energy from the temperature variance between surface mixed water and colder depths (the ocean’s thermal gradient) and converts it into electricity.

DARPA has said in a statement; “Manta Ray is a multi-phase effort that includes an at-sea demonstration of critical technologies. The program uses a disciplined systems engineering approach to define demonstration system objectives and identify enabling technologies needed for future systems.”