The U.S. military is buying electric jet-ski robots
Tests will see whether battery-powered personal watercraft can help with search-and-rescue
Jet skis look great in spy movies, but for actual military use, they have some big drawbacks. They’re noisy gas-guzzlers and inconvenient aboard a warship, which must find a safe and secure place to store their fuel. The future of jet skis for elite SEAL teams looks and sounds different. On Thursday, the Defense Innovation Unit and electric jet ski maker T3MP3ST told Defense One that they have inked a deal to help the military experiment with electric jet skis that can be converted into autonomous drones.
The T3MP3ST Maverick GT Ski is the brainchild of Nico Sell, one of the founders of encrypted messaging app Wickr. An avid surfer and sports enthusiast, Sell started her new venture in part to produce a jet ski she could feel good about using.
“A typical jet ski or snowmobile produces 200 times the emissions of one car,” she said.
Her electric jet ski also solves several problems that have generally dissuaded the naval use of personal watercraft.
“If you have gas, then you have guards. And you have mechanics. So we can get rid of all of those logistics,” She said Thursday at the Pentagon, where she was participating in an exposition on novel energy solutions adopted by the Defense Department.
The Maverick can also be outfitted with a variety of sensor suites such as sonar, radar, cameras, or lidar on top of GPS waypoints to allow for autonomous functioning.
Douglas French, a program manager at the Defense Innovation Unit, which is helping the military acquire an unspecified number of the jet skis, said, “The auspice under which we’re operating is electric search and rescue.”
But electric surface vessels could be useful in resupply and other roles, French said. “When we start getting into, like, contested logistics, the concept is, the less fuel we can burn, the better.”
The U.S. military is exploring the electrification of many types of vehicles. French said such vehicles promise to simplify not only the logistics of fuel but also reduce the maintenance costs and downtime associated with internal combustion engines. Electrical vehicles are mechanically simpler, don’t require additional lubrication, and are—in theory— more reliable, he said.
“That's one of the things we're hoping to figure out…operationally.”
French hopes that testing on maintenance, fuel efficiency, and integration, which is set to begin this winter in California, will hopefully set the stage for future tests of autonomy.
“Nico and her team already developed several use cases that we're learning about several more. So hopefully, we'll be able…to expand the testing out and just do more experimentation and really find out what the capabilities are and how broad we go.”