A low-cost unmanned underwater drone being developed by a Melbourne startup will progress to the next stage of prototyping after receiving a multi-million-dollar funding injection from the Defence department.
The company behind the drone, Melbourne-based startup C2 Robotics, is now preparing for an in-water demonstration in the coming weeks — one of the project’s final hurdles before production.
The large uncrewed underwater vehicle (LLUV), dubbed Speartooth, is designed for long-range undersea operations and offers large, flexible bays to accommodate different payloads. It could also be used for one-way missions.
At just 8 metres long, the drone is much smaller than the 30-metre Ghost Shark unmanned undersea drone prototypes being built for Defence by American military tech firm Anduril at a cost of $140 million.
According to C2 Robotics, the “revolutionary cost point” of the Speartooth drone, which offers a “modular, rapidly reconfigurable design”, means it can be manufactured and deployed by Defence in large quantities.
The company secured an initial $2.4 million contract with the Navy’s undersea warfare branch in January 2022 to develop Speartooth and subsequently spent the last two years building out a proof-of-concept.
It has already built a first-generation prototype that has been in the water since May 2022, which C2 Robotics chief technology officer Thomas Loveard said had allowed the company to “rigorously test the vessel in real-world conditions and demonstrate the long-range LUUV concept”.
The testing involved missions in the “open ocean and at significant depths”, according to the company. Over 2,000 hours of ‘hardware in the loop’ testing has been run on the digital twin that has been developed to complement Speartooth.
As part of a “third tranche of innovation funding”, C2 Robotics is now working to roll what it has learnt into a second-generation prototype, components of which it plans to test using a six-week in-water demonstration.
The new funding will also be used to develop a container system allowing Speartooth Gen 2 – which will be larger than the Gen 1 prototype initially developed – to be more easily transported and deployed by Defence.
C2 Robotics director of strategy, Dr Marcus Hellyer, confirmed to InnovationAus.com that the latest tranche of innovation funding was “in the realm of $5 million”. The original contract with Defence recently increased by $6.6 million, according to notices published on AusTender.
The demonstration, which will take place before the end of the year, will test elements of the Speartooth Gen 2 capability that has been developed on the existing Gen 1 prototype, while building the Gen 2 prototype.
Testing will extend to range and endurance, with a future version of Speartooth expected to be “capable of delivering militarily useful payloads for a range of ADF users over operationally relevant distances”.
Following the tests, C2 Robotics will be “ready to go into low-rate initial production” should Defence decide to move forward, Dr Hellyer said, adding that the demonstration is about “making sure the capability is mature enough”.
“By keeping Speartooth small and simple, we can make much faster progress than is possible for large, complex systems. Our goal is to rapidly deliver affordable mass generated by 100 per cent Australian-owned sovereign industry capability,” Dr Hellyer added.
Undersea warfare capabilities, both crewed and uncrewed, were identified as critical to the operational success of the Australian Defence Force in the Defence Strategy Review released earlier this year.
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