The Technology Strategy Board, the UK?s innovation agency, is helping to progress the development of ocean-faring, autonomous robotic vehicles through two cutting-edge English companies and a little competition. Following an extensive prototype development phase, two marine tech companies have won contracts to manufacture working prototypes of their robotic Long Endurance Marine Unmanned Surface Vehicles through the government-sponsored Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI). ASV Ltd. and MOST (AV) of Portchester and Chichester, England, respectively, beat three other companies to receive up to $1.3M in possible funding for the year of testing to follow. “Long Endurance Marine Unmanned Surface Vehicles will make a major contribution to the ability of scientists to take measurements from the ocean, which are currently grossly under-sampled in space and time. The process that selected MOST (AV) and ASV was very rigorous and we are confident that we have two excellent partners to take this exciting program forward,? said Geraint West, Head of National Marine Facilities at the UK?s National Oceanography Center (NOC). The Technology Strategy Board and Natural Environment Research Council jointly fund the program with supplementary aid from the Defense Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL).
The selection process was overseen by a panel of scientific and technical experts, coordinated by the Marine Autonomous and Robotic Systems (MARS) facility based at the NOC. MARS provides autonomous and remotely operated vehicles to the UK’s marine science community on behalf of the Natural Environment Research Council. The Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS), familiar with autonomous vehicles in its own research, also helped in the contract selection process and will see some of the testing in their home water in Oban, as well as at a second testing sight in Southampton, where the NOC operates. Once construction is completed, the vehicles?ASV?s C-Enduro and MOV (AV)?s Autonaut?will demonstrate their longevity and capabilities in gathering data both above and below the ocean surface.
Rather than concentrate on deep sea reads, the vehicles are designed to operate at surface level, and take measurements with a wide range of sensors. Satellite navigation tools, command and control communications, data transfer to shore technology, and potential energy solutions will be tested as well. The SBRI program is promoted by the Technology Strategy Board, the UK’s innovation agency. It is designed to use the power of government procurement to drive innovation and provides opportunities for companies to engage with the public sector to solve specific problems.