The Coast Guard on Wednesday began a month-long evaluation of unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) off the coast of Hawaii, to examine the capabilities of the vessels to provide persistent maritime surveillance, particularly in remote areas of the oceans.
The testing includes three vessels, one from Saildrone that is outfitted with an electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) camera, one from Spatial Integrated Systems (SIS) that also includes an EO/IR camera and radar, and one owned by the Coast Guard that was manufactured by Metal Shark.
The evaluations had been expected to occur over the summer but were delayed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The Coast Guard earlier this year awarded Saildrone $1.1 million and SIS $660,000 to provide their low-cost autonomous USVs on a contractor-owned, contractor operated basis for the testing. Metal Shark said in September the Coast Guard’s Research and Development Center awarded the company and its teammate Sea Machines a contract to supply an autonomous test vessel.
Metal Shark’s 29-foot welded aluminum craft includes Sea Machines’ SM300 autonomous command and remote-helm technology that enables transit autonomy, collaborative autonomy, active ride control, collision avoidance, and remote-control vessel monitoring. Navy shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII] is an investor in Sea Machines.
The service says that while the autonomous vessel technologies may be applicable to many Coast Guard missions, it sees the potential to help it better protect critical natural living marine resources from illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing and other illicit activities.
The testing off the south shore of Oahu will take place through Nov. 5.
The Coast Guard’s new autonomous research vessel will be homeported at the Research and Development Center’s facility in New London, Conn.