USC and Boeing Test Unmanned Submarine
With news cameras rolling earlier this month, a team of scientists from USC and Boeing ran an 18-foot-long unmanned submarine through its paces off the coast of Catalina Island.
This was the latest in a series of tests that mark a blossoming collaboration between the partners to repurpose and relocate the sub, known as Echo Ranger.
“We are pleased to have this opportunity to partner with Boeing on their Echo Ranger program and look forward to some of our scientists having the opportunity to use the vehicle as a platform for their environmental research on the Southern California Bight,” said Linda Duguay, director of research for the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies.
The Southern California Bight includes the Channel Islands and part of the Pacific Ocean.
Echo Ranger was built in 2001 to perform survey work of potential oil rig locations in the Gulf of Mexico. By 2006, Boeing had left that business but still had a fully functioning submarine with plenty of potential applications.
In the past few months, staff members from USC and Boeing have tested a variety of uses for the sub. On this last run, it carried, among other things, a radiation detector that could help scientists monitor the environment.
The team also has explored the sub’s ability to lay communications cables on the sea floor, take water samples near drainages and perform search-and-rescue survey work.
Unmanned subs are ideal for “the dull, the dirty and the dangerous things,” said Mark Kosko, Echo Ranger program manager. “Send the robot instead of the guy – it’s a lot cheaper and a lot safer.”
The sub weighs about 13,000 pounds wet and is shaped like a big yellow box, which makes it incredibly stable in the water, Kosko said. That stability makes it ideal for scientific missions, he added.
In addition, it could be used as an educational tool for university students or even younger visitors to the Wrigley Institute.
“We have a number of educational programs that are hosted at the Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina, and Echo Ranger offers some interesting learning activities for our students,” Duguay said.
The sub has potential surveillance and other defense applications, which Boeing is developing with the U.S. military, according to Kosko.
Though the sub currently is shipped to and from Catalina Island for testing, Boeing hopes to house it at the Wrigley Institute facility there. It offers the sub easy access to open water, rather than having to transit around a bunch of docked boats at a mainland port.
“USC’s a great place for that,” Kosko said. “I don’t think there’s any place in the country with capability like [it].”