Wearing a suit and tie, U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany used an iPad to control a camouflage boat, the Anaconda, through the Atchafalaya River on Tuesday afternoon.
A broad smile covered his face as he sent the boat left instead of right using technology developed by a team of student and faculty researchers at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
“This kind of partnership between a world-class university with engineering capabilities, students and creativity, combined with a partner in the commercial space, is what the future of Louisiana is all about,” Boustany said.
The Tuesday demonstration of Swiftships Shipbuilders’ A2 Anaconda in Morgan City involved iPad-controlled boat maneuvers as well as high-speed tricks at more than 50 knots.
The Anaconda, a 35-foot-long special operation craft-riverine, could be used in the military to save lives through rescue missions.
“This is us taking a look into the future,” said Eric Geibel, director of special programs for Swiftships. “It’s designed to remove human danger.”
The technology used in the Anaconda is being developed through a partnership between Swiftships and a team of two UL professors and two UL graduate students.
Ideally, the Anaconda will have the ability to make accurate navigational decisions using sensors to detect environmental dangers that feed into a computer to send almost instant controls back to the boat.
The project has generated a lot of interest in the shipping industry, especially with the U.S. military, Geibel said. With the technology UL researchers are developing, the Anaconda is worth about $1.6 million.
The autonomous technology the boat uses is not new. It is being used in drones and cars.
But using such technology in boats is more difficult due to the number of sensors necessary to maneuver in water, according to Arun Lakhotia, professor of computer science for UL and a member of the Anaconda research team.
The few autonomous boats that exist must travel slowly and only in open waters. UL researchers are crafting technology that would allow the boats more stealth and advanced maneuver opportunities.