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Following the contour of the ocean floor, Boeing’s Echo Ranger autonomous unmanned vehicle (AUV) glides fathoms beneath the surface of the Pacific Ocean as it surveys an area off of California’s Catalina Island.
Built in 2001 by Boeing to capture high-resolution sonar images of sea beds for the oil and gas industry, the bright yellow submersible is on the move today and turning heads while advancing precision underwater missions for a new era in unmanned submersibles.
“Echo Ranger’s capabilities may someday be used to patrol harbors or the nation’s waterways for homeland security or to detect environmental hazards in the world’s oceans,” said Mark Kosko, program director for Boeing’s Unmanned Underwater Systems. “Echo Ranger is uniquely suited for long-endurance, deep-dive missions, and our customers are asking for an autonomous vehicle that can remain on-station and work a mission for long periods of time.”
Weighing more than five tons, the 18.5-foot-long Echo Ranger is able to dive to depths of 10,000 feet. The versatile AUV is also capable of traveling up to eight knots and going as far as 80 miles without resurfacing.
“We’re looking at Echo Ranger to remain underwater on-station for more than 70 days with the right power source,” said Ross Peterson, deputy programs manager for Boeing’s unmanned undersea systems division. “Everyone thinks of Boeing as just a great airplane maker, but the Boeing name is also respected in the maritime deep submersible industry. We’ve been in the business more than 40 years.”
In fact, Echo Ranger is currently using facilities at the University of Southern California’s Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies as a workspace – the same location Rockwell International, a Boeing heritage company, pioneered other deep-dive manned submersibles in the 1960s.
“One of Echo Ranger’s capabilities is to dive into deep areas of the ocean and collect water samples for scientific and environmental analysis,” said Peterson. “The Wrigley Institute is a perfect fit, and this summer it was home base for testing the autonomous systems and innovations Echo Ranger is being modified for.”
On July 26, 2011, Boeing’s Echo Ranger recorded its first autonomous surface exit as it dove 40 feet below the surface of the Pacific on a pre-programmed course. It later maneuvered to a depth of 400 feet – all the while sending telemetry to Boeing Marine Systems engineers on tracking boats on the surface above.
“Echo Ranger continues to test its capabilities that challenge new markets and beyond,” said Kosko. “The world of unmanned, deep-dive submersibles with persistent assets is here, and Boeing is poised to be a major player.”