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We’ve written about it before, but the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been working on something truly spectacular: an autonomous ship that can find and track submarines below the water’s surface. Now the vessel is ready for action and is taking to the seas for tor the first time.

DARPA just posted a video of the Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) filmed during a speed test near Portland, Oregon, where the vessel was constructed.

During the test, ACTUV reached a top speed of 27 knots, or 50 km/h for us land dwellers.

The video shows ACTUV manned with several crew members, however DARPA designed the ship to be fully autonomous and capable of performing operations for months at a time at sea with no crew member aboard.

So far, no sea vessel has managed to conduct a successful long oceanic trip autonomously. They all, so far, managed to get lost. So the burden on ACTUV is pretty high to keep up the (well deserved) honour DARPA usually receives. It will be fascinating to watch this ship in action during the first few months after its 7 April christening.

Another set of questions comes up regarding the issues of maritime law and the complications that arise due to the vessel being devoid of humans. And that’s before we talk about what DARPA calls “autonomous interactions with an intelligent adversary.” What will happen when an autonomous vessel is engaged by an enemy combatant? Or an unauthorised individual tries to board an unmanned but semi-intelligent ship? Or even, what laws apply when it crossed into international waters? A litany of questions will(hopefully) be answered in the exciting months to come.