Testing Silent Nemo: A Robot Takes to the Water


12/12/2014: The Ghost Swimmer vehicle developed by the Chief of Naval Operations’ Rapid Innovation Cell project Silent NEMO undergoes testing during an event at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek – Fort Story.

Project Silent NEMO is an experiment to explore the possible uses for a biomimetic device developed by the Office of Naval Research.

Credit:Navy Public Affairs Support Element East:12/11/14

According to a piece written by Mike Hixenbaugh of the Virginia Pilot and published on December 12, 2014, the navy spy “fish” could be operational as early as next year.

It looks like a fish, sort of. It swims like one too, if you squint. It’s even named after a fish – OK, a Disney one.

The Navy is hoping that’ll be enough to get the little swimmer into enemy territory undetected to patrol and protect U.S. ships and ports from harm. Project Silent Nemo is under way this week at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek, where a team of civilian engineers and military officers are testing the capabilities of a 5-foot, 100-pound experimental robot that’s designed to look and swim like a bluefin tuna.

The robotic fish glided through the harbor Thursday as sailors took turns controlling it with a joystick. It can also be programmed to swim on its own. The robot’s black dorsal fin poked above water as its tail wiggled back and forth, propelling it almost silently just below the surface.

Nemo was developed by the Office of Naval Research and is being tested by the chief of naval operation’s Rapid Innovation Cell – a group of junior Navy and Marine Corps officers tasked with putting emerging technologies to use for the military. The same group has been playing around with 3D printers, augmented-reality glasses and about 10 other breakthrough gadgets…..

And in a piece by Ali Rockett from the Daily Press, published on December 11, 2014:

On Thursday, the black robotic fish — also known as GhostSwimmer — glided through the waters at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek controlled by a joystick.

It can swim autonomously, but that feature is in the early stages of testing and development.

Loper and Michael Rufo, director of the advanced systems group at Boston Engineering, which specializes in unmanned systems and robotics, said it would take only months to complete the technology for Nemo to swim on its own.

Rufo said the fish’s combination of “efficiency, maneuverability and speed” make it relevant for naval operations. It can submerge up to 300 feet, he said, though it has not yet been tested at those depths.

While no weaponry has been developed for Nemo, Loper said the full scope of applications hasn’t been exhausted. “Let your imagination run wild,” he said.

The Chief of Naval Operations Rapid Innovation Cell, or CRIC for short, picked up the project about a year ago after initial development by the Office of Naval Research in 2008. Loper said CRIC’s mission is not to bypass the typical military acquisition process, which is extremely costly and time consuming, but to speed up the testing of innovative ideas and get practical feedback from sailors at sea.

“We like to think of ourselves along the lines of a venture capital model,” he said. “It takes years and years to get stuff from the drawing board out to the fleet. The CNO realizes that that time line needs to be compressed dramatically. “What better way to do that than take the ideas that are coming from the young folks that are out there in the fleet and turn those around into prototypes and get them moving,”  Loper said. “That’s where something like Silent Nemo comes.” He called it “harnessing the brainpower of youth.”

Lademan, the Marine leading the project, is just 27.

Nemo is just one of about a dozen projects that CRIC is overseeing, Loper said. The cell provides management and overhead costs.

So far, the Nemo project has cost about $1 million, according to Loper. Once fully developed and tested, CRIC works with private companies to see it produced then the Navy puts in its order.