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The bottom of the ocean is a dark and menacing place. Anyone or anything venturing the depths has to contend with the immense pressure of the water, utter isolation from all sources of provisions, and the crushing dark.
Unmanned undersea vehicles (UUVs) have made marked improvements in recent years, but the ones active now are “nothing more than an extension, or an application of the surface ship,” says Lance Towers, director of sea and land at Phantom Works, Boeing’s R&D arm.
In an effort to give humanity the capabilities needed to explore the oceans, Boeing set off on a journey to develop the UUV of the future. That was in 2011, and five years later the future is here. Boeing’s Echo Voyager has arrived.
The Echo Voyager can spend six month underwater and travel more than 12,000km completely cut off from any supporting vessel. To make this possible, the 15.5m, 50-ton Voyager sports a hybrid rechargeable power system.
It runs on lithium-ion or silver zinc batteries that can give it enough juice for a few days of operation. But when that runs out, instead of running to the nearest ship, the Voyager fires up its own diesel generator that recharges the batteries.
To keep in touch, Voyager can establish a satellite link back to land to transmit data on whatever it finds. And like its predecessors, Echo Ranger and Echo Seeker, this underwater robot is completely autonomous.
Because Voyager can and will be spending months at a time underwater and cut off from civilization, it is loaded with redundant systems and backups. Towers says these account for a large part of its chunky size.