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    Fantastic Voyage

    Learn how a Boeing team is making waves in autonomous undersea vehicles and why the possibilities are nothing short of extra-large.

    Echo Voyager, Boeing’s extra-large unmanned undersea vehicle, or XLUUV, when it’s in the water.

    This is more than anyone typically sees of Echo Voyager, Boeing’s prototype extra-large unmanned undersea vehicle, or XLUUV, when it’s in the water.

    Boeing designed and built Echo Voyager to advance autonomous capabilities in an environment less charted by unmanned vehicles compared to the sky. The XLUUV is meant to operate autonomously for months at a time. Combined with a large modular payload capacity, Echo Voyager offers value and mission capability on a scale previously unimagined.

    In 2019, Boeing engineers tested and evaluated different configurations of Echo Voyager, each time improving the XLUUV’s reliability and performance. In April, a team sent Echo Voyager through sea trials, motivated by the possibilities.

    Olga Ortiz, mechanical and structural engineer

    We might be the only people in the world doing this. We’re exploring new frontiers that will get us to places that no one else can.

    —Olga Ortiz, mechanical and structural engineer

    Wearing wetsuits and helmets with small lights attached, they entered the water to inspect the vehicle and adjust equipment.

    The best thing about my job is I’m never bored, because I always get to do something new.

    —Meghan Guerrero, systems engineer, vehicle operator and the team’s first female swimmer

    Olga Ortiz, mechanical and structural engineer

    Applying the power of autonomy, potential operators could augment their undersea security capability with a fleet of XLUUVs to help them patrol large harbors and waterways, while more efficiently using manned resources, program leaders said. But that’s just the beginning. Echo Voyager is intended to be a multi-mission system, bringing all the benefits of autonomy to various defense and commercial applications.

    The XLUUV also represents a key component for establishing a seabed-to-space network that enables the sharing of data between satellites, unmanned aerial and surface vehicles, and manned assets — delivering more comprehensive situational awareness for warfighters.

    51 feet

    Original length of Echo Voyager

    +34 feet

    Length of added payload carriage

    51

    Total length from nose to propeller

    The XLUUV further sets itself apart with its hybrid rechargeable power system. When its lithium-ion batteries run low, Echo Voyager surfaces with its mast raised and turns on diesel-powered generators to revitalize the battery sources.

    Learnings from Echo Voyager have informed the company’s other XLUUV efforts. In 2019, the U.S. Navy selected Boeing to develop, test and field five XLUUV Advanced Undersea Prototypes for its Orca program, a contract worth $274 million. Boeing expects to complete deliveries by 2022.

    It’s marine, it’s interesting, it’s hard and it has the challenges of computer science. Autonomy software enables the mission planner to have high-fidelity control over vehicle behaviors. It’s a safety net.

    —Gaurav Bansal, Echo Voyager vehicle supervisor, operator and mission planner

    Story by

    Dan Raley

    Photos by

    Bob Ferguson

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