It has the trappings of a science-fiction film: Robot pods oundlessly lie in wait on the ocean floor until sum- moned to the surface, launching drones capable of hibernating inside the capsules for years at a time. But his scenario is far from fantasy thanks
to the Defense Advanced Research Projects
Agency’s Upward Falling Payload program.
The capsules, known as UFPs, could be
remotely triggered by the Navy when it requires surveillance
or aerial support. Operators, even if positioned hundreds of
miles away from the pods, could activate nodes on the devices
to send them floating to the water’s surface—falling upward.
“The idea of UFP is to pre-deploy them far in advance, and
then they will be there when you need them,” says Jeffrey Krolik, the program manager in the Defense Advanced Research
Projects Agency’s (DARPA’s) Strategic Technology Office.
The pods also were designed to save the military energy
costs. The drones would not require fuel because they would
be powered with energy generated by ocean currents.
Developers envision the UFP comprising three subsystems:
the deep-ocean, pressure-tolerant “risers,” or tubes, that would
come to the surface on command; the encased payloads or
platforms, such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or buoy
sensors; and the communications system to trigger the risers
to launch across great distances.
DARPA has partnered with five companies on the $22 million multiyear project, now in its second phase. The businesses
include Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Boeing, Spar-ton and Global Aerospace Corporation (GAC).
Each firm has invested to overcome many unprecedented challenges, with some tackling more than one
portion of the project. For example, GAC is developing
nodes to contain underwater communications hardware, a
riser and a small UAV that operators can cue to a desired
location, according to the California-based firm. GAC and
its research and development partners are working on a
DARPA advances its remote-triggered
deep-sea device that will store payloads
and rapidly lift them to the surface.