It’s no surprise that America’s Navy is working with some highly sophisticated technology. But what might be a surprise is just how impressive some of the newest advances really are. From water-based fuel to VR-based training, here are some of the Navy’s most interesting tech breakthroughs.
Carriers and submarines are nuclear powered, but other Navy ships and aircraft use conventional fossil fuels. And when Navy ships are at sea and need to fill up, they have to meet up with replenishment ships, which requires logistical coordination and planning. But what if ships could make their own fuel... out of seawater?
The concept sounds like one a five-year-old could come up with, but it turns out it’s absolutely possible to turn water into a gasoline-like fuel, and Navy researchers have flown a model plane on the stuff as a proof of concept. (Who says research can’t be fun?)
How’d they do it? The Navy researchers created a device that recovered dissolved and bound carbon dioxide (CO₂) and hydrogen (H₂) gases from seawater. The gaseous CO₂ and H₂ are then catalytically reacted to produce liquid fuel. The process costs between $3 and $6 per gallon, and it’s estimated that they’ll be able to do this at scale within a decade.
What’s coming after that? Cars that run on air?
When you think of the Navy, you might think of massive battleships and aircraft carriers. But in recent years, the Navy has begun developing physically smaller ships with just as much firepower and tech as the big boys — if not more.
“The US military has talked about the strategic importance of replacing ‘king’ and ‘queen’ pieces on the maritime chessboard with lots of ‘pawns,’” according to Fred Kennedy, director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. And that’s what the Sea Hunter is: a small yet efficient craft. It can track submarines and detect mines, and its daily operation costs are less than three percent of a destroyer’s (an estimated $15-20k, versus $700k).
Even cooler, this boat is unmanned, and can travel from one continent to another without a single person inside. That’s pretty wild.
Laser guns are no longer solely the domain of sci-fi. The AN/SEQ-3 Laser Weapon System aboard the USS Ponce, an amphibious transport dock, can be turned to a low-power mode to visually dazzle opponents and hopefully force them to retreat. If the opponent isn’t rebuffed by the low-power mode, a higher power level can destroy whatever craft they’re on.
“When people think of virtual reality many imagine Tony Stark from the ‘Iron Man’ movies, hands raised and moving virtual displays projected in front of him,” said a press release announcing San Diego’s Battlespace Exploitation of Mixed Reality (BEMR) Lab. While that might be fanciful now, Navy engineers are working hard to develop such capabilities.”
Uh… what? That sounds amazing.
And it’s true. Sponsored by the Office of Naval Research, the BEMR Lab combines virtual reality and augmented reality to create “mixed reality,” an extremely immersive format for military-training exercises. The lab is also developing “GunnAR” helmets, which provide augmented reality heads-up displays for Navy gunners, with easy-to-read commands and navigational information. The benefit, according to Navy training officer Lt. Robert McClenning, is “greater situational awareness for the gunner wearing the helmet, and a quicker response time to ward off potential threats.”
Those are just a few of the Navy’s recent exciting technological advances. Have you heard of anything else that sounds cool? Let me know in the comments. And if you’re interested in getting some hands-on experience with all this tech, maybe consider a career in the Navy.
Tony Carnevale is a senior writer for Studio@Gizmodo.