High on the military's wish list are small robot submarines capable of spying and attacking behind enemy lines. But when such underwater craft proved expensive and difficult to develop, engineer Howard Hornsby thought there must be a better way. So, drawing on his hobby of racing radio-controlled model speedboats, he started a company to create a robot boat. Such a craft is hard to spot with either radar or sonar, he says, because "the best place to hide is on the surface."
Now a company Hornsby founded, International Robotic Systems Inc. in Riviera Beach, Fla., has unveiled a 10-foot-long craft that looks like something out of a James Bond movie. The Owl Mark II can skim along at 35 knots, follow either radioed instructions or programmed routes using navigation satellites, carry everything from cameras to rockets, and transmit back what it sees and hears. The Navy is testing it for coastal surveillance and minesweeping. Hornsby is hoping it will catch on for such civilian uses as nabbing drug smugglers and searching for oil spills. The cost: $650,000 and up.