Echo Seeker is a fully autonomous unmanned underwater vehicle developed by Boeing's Advanced Technology Program in Huntington Beach. The 32-foot-long vehicle provides ample payload capacity and energy for diving and operating at ocean depths to 20,000 feet. PAUL PINNER, BOEING
Boeing will soon roll out a new deep-sea vessel – a bright yellow submarine that can operate in ocean depths of 20,000 feet for up to three days at a time, the company announced earlier this month.
The Echo Seeker, an unmanned underwater vehicle, will be rented out to both government and commercial customers for oil and gas explorations, environmental surveys, military surveillance and more. “Boeing is looking to fill the technology gap we noticed in the field of advanced, autonomous underwater vehicles,” said Lance Towers, director of Huntington Beach-based Boeing Advanced Technology Programs, which built the vessel. “There have been many advancements with autonomous air vehicles over the last few years, especially with drones, but we are focusing on building a family of underwater vessels,” Towers said.
Boeing’s latest and largest submersible is a follow-up to its 2001 Echo Ranger, the smaller, original yellow submarine that conducts ocean surveys. The 32-foot-long Echo Seeker has a 6,000 pound cargo capacity and is equipped with sonar technology for enhanced ocean-bottom mapping.
Towers said he could not reveal the cost of constructing the vessel nor the price Boeing will charge for its use. There will be a wide range of operational costs based on the depth and scope of the mission a customer is trying to accomplish, he said.
In a public event on July 14, Boeing exhibited the Echo Seeker in its Huntington Beach facility, where the vehicle is currently stationed. The submarine demonstrated its movement and sonar capabilities by doing paces in a 33-feet-deep pool and then diving in the nearby ocean.
The Echo Ranger, the Seeker’s predecessor, was originally built for commercial oil and gas companies to perform ocean surveys, said Towers, who helped develop both vessels.
However, the Ranger proved to be adaptable for a variety of customers. It has conducted oil and gas explorations in the Gulf of Mexico, assessed southern California fishing conditions for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and collected data from the shipwreck of the World War II aircraft carrier USS Independence off the coast of San Francisco. The vehicle has also been contracted by the U.S. Navy.
Boeing expects a similar set of customers for the new Echo Seeker, Towers said. “We are talking to several customers about employing the new vehicle for their needs. They are excited about the new technology and we are ready to apply it for a wide set of missions,” he said.
The Echo Seeker, with a significantly larger cargo hold than its predecessor, can carry larger equipment like sonar systems and water chemistry evaluation sensors.
Towers also noted that the larger cargo space enables clients to drop off loads at deep ocean destinations, as in the case of laying pipelines for off-shore drilling operations. “The Echo Seeker makes it possible to explore depths of the ocean that were not achievable before,” Towers said. “Now we can offer customers the capabilities of increased size, endurance and payload.”
For now, he said, Boeing will focus on its two existing unmanned underwater vehicles. But the company is “keeping its options open” regarding the production of future vehicles.