The commercial industry’s demand for unmanned maritime systems in the future will likely surpass that of governments given increasing needs to explore and monitor the oceans, an expert on the market said.

Antoine Martin, founder of Unmanned Vehicle Systems Consulting, said at the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) conference, that as government spending flat lines due to budget constraints, he believes the private sector will offset the difference or even become the primary driver in developing the systems.

Lockheed Martin’s Remote Mutli-Mission Vehicle, an unmanned underwater system being developed by the U.S. Navy. Photo by Lockheed Martin

“A lot of funding will come from larger companies that have a vested interest to develop their own unmanned maritime systems technology,” Martin told a gathering Monday.

One area will be oil and gas exploration and the need to discover and penetrate potential sources much deeper than can currently be reached, he said. He noted plans by industry to develop “factories” for processing oil and gas below the ocean’s surface and feeding it directly to shore via pipelines instead of vessels by 2020.

Governments have been the key developer of unmanned surface and underwater vehicles, largely for military purposes such as mine countermeasures, but also for scientific purposes.

Martin said that will likely shift toward the commercial market, but he said better technology must still emerge. He said more common vehicles need to be developed to deploy differing types of unmanned systems, and they need to improve energy sources and propulsion, as well as more sophisticated software to process data.