Last week, the U.S. Navy announced that four of their “REMUS 100” unmanned underwater vehicles sailed off-radar and stopped responding to commands. The ‘bots were part of a fleet of thirteen drones being used in a training exercise to locate mine-like objects on the ocean floor off the coast of Virginia.

After days of searching for the runaway bots using manned boats and aircrafts, the U.S. Navy has yet to find anything. So now, they’ve called in the real underwater experts: dolphins and sea lions, trained to detect mines.

Unmanned Underwater vehicles (UUVs) started growing in popularity in the mid 1990’s, and now that the technology is more advanced they are finding work in everything from basic science research to military surveillance. For the past 10 years, the REMUS 100 has been one of the most reliable UUVs on the market, making it an easy choice for the Navy to use in shallow water mine counter measure operations.

The idea is to have these vehicles replace mammals in surveillance and mine-detection tasks. The bots have the advantage of being able to carry more equipment, like advanced cameras and side-scan sonar, and they also prevent the potential loss of life.

The mammals’ advantage? Well, they have brains and bodies that are way more adaptable than software and hardware. Clearly, the bots didn’t follow orders as expected. That’s why the Navy is sending a bunch of dolphins and sea lions to find the drones that were supposed to replace them.

Given the REMUS 100’s history of reliability, the recent disappearance comes as somewhat of a surprise. Did the bots malfunction, or did something go wrong in the control room? The Navy is still investigating what caused the disappearance, but they say “fear not” to all seafarers and fisherman out there.

Fortunately, the torpedo-shaped REMUS 100 bots are relatively harmless, measuring only 7.5 inches in diameter and carrying no weaponry. Still, let’s hope the Navy can keep tabs on their bots in the future.

Source: Wired Danger Room.

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