QUINCY — Think of Bluefin Robotics’ new Proteus underwater vehicle as the hybrid of the deep. Now undergoing sea trials at a Navy base in Panama City, Fla., the Proteus is Bluefin’s largest vehicle to date – and its first that accommodates passengers. It can seat up to seven divers, or run in unmanned mode. “There’s an instability around the globe right now with many different nations increasing their navies, and anti-submarine warfare is very important,” said Tony Lorusso, a program manager at Bluefin. “This system could be used for that.”
Bluefin executives hope the prototype will provide a lucrative source of new business for the company, which moved to Quincy’s Fore River shipyard in 2010. Since then, it has increased its workforce by 33 percent and now has 100 employees.
Bluefin held an open house Monday to show off its technology to invited guests and local officials. The company manufactures five sizes of unmanned underwater vehicles that are used by the military, commercial ventures and scientific researchers for underwater detection and sea floor mapping.
The Proteus is the first manned vehicle developed by the company. A team of divers can control the vehicle with a helicopter-type joystick and examine underwater data on a computer screen with the help of an underwater mouse.
At 26 feet long, the $9 million experimental vehicle can travel more than 500 nautical miles at a top speed of 10 knots on lithium battery power and carry up to 1,800 pounds.
Bluefin plans to lease the vehicle to the military and industry to test propulsion systems and payloads such as underwater data communications and acoustic imaging. Or it can be used for human transport, such as dropping off or picking up teams of divers. Testing is expected to be complete by January. Nearly 20 companies are interested in trying the technology, Lorusso said. The Navy Research Lab in San Diego is the vehicle’s first client.
Bluefin consolidated its manufacturing operations from East Boston and its engineering arm from Cambridge when it moved to Quincy in November 2010. CEO David Kelly said the company expects to continue expanding its workforce over the next 12 months, primarily in manufacturing jobs. The commercial side of the business will experience the most growth in the next year, Kelly predicted. He expects steady demand from the oil and gas industries and wind farm manufacturers for sea floor mapping.