Robotic dogs now go swimming

Published June 13, 2022
By Joseph Trevithick
The War Zone

Ghost Robotics’ has long touted its Vision 60 quadrupedal unmanned ground vehicles, or Q-UGVs, more commonly referred to as robot dogs, as eminently modular platforms that are readily adaptable to a wide array of roles, including as rifle-armed scouts. Now, thanks to a ‘tail’ kit with a water jet propulsion system, the company has added the ability to swim to the Vision 60’s list of capabilities.

The Nautical Autonomous Unmanned Tail (NAUT) makes the Vision 60, versions of which are already in U.S. military service, the first fully amphibious Q-UGV on the market, according to Ghost Robotics. “The robot [the Vision 60-series] has helped the military, law enforcement, and enterprise customers on land and now with the addition of Nautical Autonomous Unmanned Tail (NAUT) … it can help in water as well,” text accompanying a short video presentation that the company posted on social media, seen below, says.

Performance and other capability details about NAUT-equipped Vision 60s, such as how fast they can swim or what their maximum in-water endurance might be, do not appear to be readily available. The War Zone has reached out to Ghost Robotics for more information.

“Battery life is a key issue. Eventually, we’re going to give it gait and motion so it can swim,” Ghost Robotics’ founder Jiren Parikh, who sadly died in March, had told The War Zone in 2020 in regards to potential future use of Vision 60s in a littoral environment. “We’ve filed some patents. It’s pretty cool.”

It’s worth noting that the Vision 60 equipped with the NAUT system does not appear to use its four legs while in the water in any way, relying entirely on the rear-mounted articulating water jet for propulsion and steering.

“The NAUT jet propulsion unit transforms any IP67 or above rated platform, from robotics to small watercraft, into a remotely piloted and/or autonomously enabled system.”. IP67 refers to a particular rating level in the internationally-accepted Ingress Protection (IP) code, which covers how protected electronics and other electrical systems might be against water, as well as other things, getting inside. The first and second numbers in the rating system refer to separate levels of protection, with the 6 in IP67 meaning that the system in question is fully sealed against dust, while the 7 means it has survived temporary immersion in water at a depth of between just under six inches (15 centimeters) and just over 3 feet (1 meter) in a test last approximately 30 minutes.

Regardless, the amphibious capability that the NAUT provides opens a variety of possibilities for how a Vision 60 might be employed in support military operations, law enforcement activities, or in other roles. Vision 60s have demonstrated an ability to walk through shallow water, but the ability to cross deeper water obstacles can only increase their flexibility no matter what missions they might be tasked with.

For example, in a military context, this could give even a relatively small unit a way to scout out the situation on the opposite shore of a body of water, such as a river or lake, before attempting to cross. A NAUT-equipped Vision 60 might potentially be able to determine a safe path through a water obstacle, which could contain mines or other hazards, as well. These same attributes could be useful in a more general reconnaissance scenario, opening additional routes that one of these Q-UGVs could take to the target area, potentially helping it avoid detection.

NAUT will be on display at this year’s Special Operations Forces Industry Conference (SOFIC), an annual event hosted by the National Defense Industry Association (NDIA) in Tampa, Florida. This highlights the potential value of this combination in support of various special operations forces missions, such as ‘special reconnaissance’ deep behind enemy lines and direct action raids.

“We could potentially use it to sit there, maybe move it, maybe blow something up, or sense something on a riverbed or shoreline,” Parikh, the late Ghost Robotics founder and CEO, had also explained in 2020 when talking about potential military applications for the Vision 60.

A Vision 60 fitted with a NAUT would have value for supporting law enforcement personnel and other first responders, especially in disaster response scenarios where they might be presented with flooded-out areas full of unknown hazards, as well.

Whatever the case, NAUT does certainly underscore the modularity of the Vision 60 platform and Ghost Robotics’ continued partnership with numerous other companies to help outfit these Q-UGVs to be able to perform a host of missions. Now, with these new ‘tails,’ these robot dogs will be able to bring at least some of these capabilities out onto the water.