The Solent Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has awarded BAE Systems a grant of £457,000 to design and deliver the UK’s first dedicated autonomous systems testing service, the company said in a statement.
BAE Systems together with ASV Global (ASV), Blue Bear Systems Research (Blue Bear), Marine Electronic Systems (MES), SeeByte and the University of Southampton, will work together to provide the service’s infrastructure, with other organisations set to join later this year. Together the Solent LEP and partner organisations are investing £1.5 million in this project, the first of its kind in the UK.
The new service will be ready for use later this year and customers will be able to conduct trials and test systems such as unmanned boats, air vehicles and autonomous sensors in a safe, controlled and realistic environment in the Solent. Backed by a comprehensive safety case, the service will make use of a secure maritime communications network and a mobile command and control centre, featuring the same technology BAE Systems provides to UK Royal Navy platforms.
The new service was announced during a two-day launch event at the Royal Marines Museum in Eastney, Portsmouth, attended by more than 100 guests from autonomous systems providers, local businesses, academia, the Armed Forces and other interested parties.
In October 2016, BAE Systems and the test service partners successfully showcased their autonomous maritime capabilities in the Royal Navy’s ‘Unmanned Warrior’ exercise – the world’s first large scale demonstration of innovative maritime robotic systems. BAE Systems’ bespoke ACER (Autonomous Control Exploitation and Realisation) system provided a seamless flow of information from sensors on the unmanned boats to crews on the hosting warships. One of the unmanned boats used in the Unmanned Warrior exercise was BAE Systems’ Pacific Class 950 Unmanned Rigid Inflatable Boat which is capable of travelling autonomously at up to 47kts for up to 12 hours at a time. The autonomous technology on the Pacific Class 950 can be retro-fitted to existing boats.