The Coast Guard’s Research and Development Center (RDC) is planning a new set of evaluations of unmanned surface vessel (USV) technology to examine the ability of autonomous systems to avoid collisions at sea and conduct additional missions.
The Coast Guard is working with Sea Machines to formalize a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) to modify the company’s SM300 autonomous vessel technology currently installed on an existing RDC test asset, the 29RDC, which was used last fall in an evaluation of autonomous USV technologies in the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii to detect illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
The forthcoming evaluation involving the RDC and Sea Machines will “determine what parameters and behaviors would be beneficial for USCG mission sets,” says a notice in the June 10 Federal Register. “Additionally, the agreement will investigate the current state of collision avoidance in autonomous unmanned surface vessels (USVs), to develop a better understanding of how these capabilities should be evaluated/regulated in the future.”
In addition to examining the collision avoidance capabilities inline with international regulations, other areas of interest for evaluation include manned/unmanned teaming of USVs and sensor/perception requirements, a Coast Guard spokeswoman told Defense Daily on Monday.
The Coast Guard hasn’t scheduled a starting time for the new evaluations, which are expected to take place over several years. The spokeswoman said that the evaluations, at least initially, are expected to take place out of the RDC’s headquarters in New London, Conn., and Sea Machines’ headquarters in Boston.
Depending on additional test requirements that have yet to be determined, the Coast Guard may select more testing areas, she said.
The Federal Register notice says that “other potential non-Federal participants” interested in the USV efforts are invited to submit proposals for similar CRADAs.
Last October, the RDC evaluated the 29RDC, which is a 29-foot Metal Shark Defiant-class boat with the SM300 installed, as well as Saildrone’s wind-powered Saildrone and Spatial Integrated Systems’ (SIS) Watcher cutter boat USVs for the maritime domain awareness evaluations near Hawaii. Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII] acquired the autonomy business of SIS in January.
The RDC used the 29RDC in the earlier evaluation to “better understand the footprint, training, and logistics of USV operation within the Coast Guard,” the spokeswoman said. Since then, the USV has been used by the RDC to demonstrate “autonomous transits, a joint USV demonstration, and a collaborative following missions with a USCG Response Boat Medium,” she said.
The maritime domain awareness USV effort last fall showed that the autonomous technology is effective and can provide a level of persistent situational awareness but that onboard artificial intelligence and machine learning are needed to speed data processing and limit data transfer to actionable information.