Washington Firm Sends Drones to Sea

By Tom Bacon

The word "drone" conjures up images of aerial weapons. The phrase "wind power" is associated with huge turbine blades lazily turning to generate electricity. But put those elements together, and a Seattle Washington firm comes up with sea drones.

The Harbor Wing Technologies company of Seattle has a 10-million dollar contract to build long-range robot surveillance boats for the U-S Navy. Harbor Wing's X-2 demonstrator model is a wind-powered boat built to survive hurricane conditions at sea. And it can be mounted with surveillance gear or even weapons.

It resembles a big sailboat, but the sail is actually a wing, an airfoil 60 feet high, fitted with smaller steering wings that resemble venetian blind slats. Aerial drones are commonly called U-A-Vs - meaning unmanned aerial vehicles. The Harbor Wing boat is called an A-U-S-V - autonomous unmanned surface vehicle.

The strange-looking craft is 50 feet long, and the sail - or wing - can propel it at speeds up to 25 knots - about 30 miles an hour. Harbor Wing C-E-O Stuart Platt, a retired navy admiral, said the wing delivers the same thrust as a small jet engine. The craft can spend more than 3 months at sea looking for enemy threats, piracy or drug runners.

Harbor Wing also has plans to build commercial cargo sea-going drones. A 30-foot model now being tested can carry a ton of cargo, while using virtually no fuel and leaving no carbon residue in the atmosphere. And planners foresee building passenger ferries that could operate in Puget Sound.
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