The Australian Army has placed an order with Australian company BlueZone Group for three robotic “Z-Boats” as a result of the 2016 Army Innovation Day (AID).
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BlueZone Group (BZG), which was formed in 2015 when Australian-based SMEs ATSA Defence Services and UVS joined to create a capability to provide robotic systems, announced the award of an order to UVS following BZG's participation in AID last year.
Three variants of Z-Boat will be provided:
• Hydrographic Survey. This capability will enable multibeam bathymetric and LiDAR survey of the coastal and riverine environment to enable safe passage and entry into the environment. The Z-Boat may be operated under remote control or in an autonomous waypoint-following mode;
• Flow and Current Monitoring. This capability will be implemented with an Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (ADCP) payload to gather information on river flow to support Army bridging activities and general surveillance; and
• Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance (ISR). A general ISR capability will be developed incorporating video and infrared cameras complemented by a laser survey capability. Real-time transmission of data to operator/shore will be supported. Concepts of operation may include as a Riverine Scout Boat.
The theme of last year's AID event was 'manned and unmanned teaming for the soldier'.
BZG's general manager defence Andrew Hazell said the company's exhibiting of the Teledyne OceanScience Z-Boat at AID 2016 had attracted a large amount of attention from the AID delegates.
"We found the Army Innovation Day experience to be a thoroughly refreshing way to approach innovation for the Australian Defence Force," said Hazell.
"The Innovation Day initiative was an ideal, low-logistics way for SMEs to introduce innovative technologies to Army and to have detailed conversation with potential users in an atmosphere of collaboration."
Following AID 2016, BZG met with Army and developed novel capability options for the provision of a Z-Boat fleet. BZG said these capabilities will make significant contributions to Army’s urgent and pressing need to de-risk the riverine environment and will provide users with comprehensive and accurate data to assist a broad range of operations – including humanitarian relief.
BZG said the Z-boat is a strong example of a robotic technology that takes the soldier out of the danger zone and supports manned-unmanned teaming (MuMT) for a combined army team in a joint environment. The Riverine Scout Boat can be deployed into areas of uncertain hostility and confirm or deny the presence of hostile forces to de-risk the riverine environment. For river measurement, the Z-Boat can be deployed in dangerous (e.g. flooding & fast-flowing) rivers or other rivers where hazards exist (e.g. crocodile attack or bio-hazards). The payload capability of the Z-Boat could be used for munitions re-supply to support enhanced precision lethality.
Hazell said that the Z-Boat was a strong example of a novel capability that Navy could also consider for littoral survey and rapid environmental assessment projects such as SEA 1770 and SEA 2400.
"The capability for in-shore and coastal bathymetric survey using the autonomous waypoint following function of the Z-Boat is an innovative approach that may be of benefit for these projects," said Hazell.
"BlueZone Group is well placed to support autonomous and robotic maritime technology for the ADF, as we have a track record of supporting a number of System Project Offices through our ongoing maintenance of the SAAB Double Eagle Mine Disposal System since 2000, the Liquid Robotics Wave Gliders, Seabotix ROVs and Hydroid REMUS Autonomous Underwater Vehicles."
BZG operates from offices and workshops in Newcastle, Melbourne and Perth.