The Evolution of Autonomous Vehicles at the National Oceanography Centre, UK
The UK government considers robotics as a key future industry sector and has been an enthusiastic supporter of NOC’s use of marine robotic systems, releasing funds to enable to NOC to build the ‘MARS Innovation Centre’ to build on this leading capability, which opened in Autumn 2015 to act as the UK’s focus for marine autonomous robotic systems.
Autonomous systems are steadily becoming more capable, more reliable, and are gaining longer endurance. Costs are falling as new vehicles enter the market, and the supporting sectors such as the insurance industry gain more experience of working with the operators. For unmanned surface vehicles in particular it is likely that costs will fall enough for new users such as marine environmental protection charities or fishing organisations to deploy their own systems. Military use will certainly increase as well.
Gradually the dream of replacing a research ship with a robot will be achieved for a wide range of missions, greatly increasing humanity’s knowledge about the global ocean, enabling us to better-manage resources, provide early warning of geohazards or algal blooms, and adapt to changing climate conditions. NOC’s experience will feed into international capacity building and knowledge exchange activities through the UK’s actions in support of UN Sustainable Development Goals and Technology Transfer under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. The industry will continue to grow, and soon the idea of autonomy in the ocean will be as normal as the ubiquity of satellite communications, remote sensing and navigation.
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