Robots in combat are no longer a novelty in the U.S. military. Dangerous jobs such as explosives detection, warzone surveillance and precision-guided airstrikes already have been handed off to robots.
The Navy is taking the technology a step further.
Researchers believe robots are now smart enough that they can be trusted to take on tougher jobs like escorting and protecting billion-dollar warships. Robotic patrol boats could keep sailors out of harm’s way and ease the burden on overworked crews.
In an experiment in August, a team of engineers and naval officers deployed 13 robotic patrol craft on the James River in Virginia, and tested their ability to operate autonomously as escorts of a large U.S. ship, detect the presence of a potentially hostile ship, swarm around it and disable it.
It has taken more than a decade for the Navy to perfect the technology. The quest started 14 years ago when suicide bombers exploded a small boat alongside the guided-missile destroyer USS Cole as it was refueling in the Yemeni port of Aden. The explosion ripped a hole in the hull of the ship, killing 17 U.S. sailors.