Unmanned submarines will get charged faster, making them more available for missions.
The U.S. Navy is developing an underwater charging station for its unmanned undersea vehicles. The technology, which does away with cables, will make it easier for drones to recharge at sea.
Wireless charging technology, also known as inductive charging technology, was pioneered commercially for smartphones and tablets. It involves simply setting your phone down on a flat charging mat. Wireless chargers emit an alternating magnetic field, which induces an alternating current in a receiver coil in the device. However, wireless charging hasn’t become universal thanks in part to its relative slowness versus using a wired charger.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy started making a big push into unmanned underwater vehicles. The torpedo-shaped robots are being developed for a variety of tasks, including reconnaissance, mine hunting, ocean floor mapping, and anti-submarine warfare. Electrically powered, they are quiet and can travel great distances from their mother ship. The problem: It’s hard for a floating robot to plug itself into a charging station at sea. Right now, that means a sea drone needs to return to base just so a human can plug it into a charging station.
The solution is to make the charging station wireless so the robot merely has to land on it to recharge itself. This would take a human out of the energy issue completely, enabling charging stations to be deployed remote areas where UUVs operate.
An early proof of concept test took place several years ago at Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific, when engineer Wayne Liu charged his own cell phone, sealed in a plastic bag, several feet underwater on a wireless charging pad. The experiment worked, and Liu’s cell phone received electrical power. In July, scientists and engineers from Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division were able to transfer 2 kilowatts of electricity from an underwater wireless charging station to a section of the Navy’s Mid-sized Autonomous Research Vehicle. Someday soon, perhaps lots of Navy drones will be able to power up this way.