December 26, 2005:
As navies continue over a decade of research into USVs (unmanned surface vehicles), civilian firms are now offering USVs for civilian applications. One outfit, MRVI, offers a kit of sensors and software that can turn just about any boat into a USV. Using satellite communications, a USV can use its sensors (vidcams, radar, sonar and microphones) to patrol coastal areas or waterways. MRVI also proposes using USVs to escort ships moving through areas where there has been pirate activity. The software allows the USV to patrol a pre-programmed route, and only need its remote human monitor if something unfamiliar shows up on the sensors.
The most popular configuration for a USV is a seagoing speed boat. Without people on board, more fuel can be carried, and the USV can sprint away from trouble (like pirates who don't like being watched.) Speedy USVs would also be useful for port protection and other counter-terror tasks. These are the chores navies had in mind, but it looks like the commercial users will get there before the sailors.