UK contracts for unmanned marine survey ship development

Companies from the South Coast of England have won contracts to develop Long Endurance Marine Unmanned Surface Vehicles that will carry out sustained marine research over long periods.

Working with the UK’s National Oceanography Centre, ASV of Portchester and MOST (AV) of Chichester will develop the advanced vehicles under contracts awarded through the government-backed Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI).

The Technology Strategy Board and Natural Environment Research Council jointly fund the programme with supplementary funding of additional elements from the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl).

ASV and MOST (AV) will now manufacture working prototypes of their proposed vehicles. To demonstrate capability as part of the year-long programme, the vehicles will be extensively tested, in Southampton Water and off Oban, home of the Scottish Association of Marine Science (SAMS) who make extensive use of autonomous vehicles in their research.

When developed, the vehicles, which operate on the sea surface rather than at depth, will gather scientific data from the ocean over periods of several months. A range of sensors to take measurements beneath and above the ocean surface, together with satellite navigation tools, communications for command and control and for data transfer to shore, are all readily available. The vehicles will demonstrate several feasible technologies to provide the energy necessary for long deployment. 

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 National Oceanography Centre (NOC). MARS provides autonomous and remotely operated vehicles to the UK’s marine science community on behalf of the Natural Environment Research Council.

Geraint West, head of National Marine Facilities at NOC, of which MARS is a part, said: ‘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 programme forward. I would like to offer both my congratulations.’

In a statement, Dan Hook, managing director of ASV said: ‘We have developed the C-Enduro vessel to scavenge energy from its surroundings but also carry a micro-diesel generator for added assurance that it can navigate safely in any conditions.

‘We are working with an excellent consortium including Cosworth, Cranfield University and Hyperdrive to bring cutting edge technology for energy generation, autonomy and safe navigation.’