Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII] unveiled its new Proteus unmanned surface vessel (USV) last Thursday for use in testing and development of autonomous capabilities.
The Proteus USV is 27 feet long and outfitted with Sea Machines’ SM300 autonomy system. The company said the vessel successfully completed a demonstration on May 14 off the coast of Panama City, Fla.
In the demonstration, the Proteus was equipped with “commercial perception sensors” like GPS, automatic identification system, depth transducer, radar and a 360-degree field of view camera. The company also deployed a 51-foot dive boat during the demonstration to prove the SM300 includes an obstacle avoidance capability and adherence to International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, known as COLREGS.
HII spokesperson Beci Benton told Defense Daily the Proteus USV is not for sale and is only a test asset.
“We plan to use it to help develop new, custom autonomy capabilities to fit varying missions, from commercial to defense. HII will be continuing research and development for USVs with the Proteus vessel and it will allow our team to test new autonomy behaviors, sensor fusion and concepts of operation,” Benton said.
She added the dive boat used in the test was deployed “to help illustrate how the autonomy system allowed the Proteus USV to avoid static and moving obstacles and follow COLREGs.”
The dive boat was used to intercept the mission path of the Proteus, which had to then redirect to avoid a collision.
During the May 14 test, the vessel operated autonomously, but personnel were onboard “to ensure safety and to comply with regulatory requirements,” Benton said.
“We are thrilled to launch our Proteus USV. The vessel performed exactly as expected with the SM300 system’s proven and safe autonomous capability,” Duane Fotheringham, president of the Unmanned Systems business group in HII’s Technical Solutions division, said in a statement. “This marks a significant milestone in our commitment to advancing our unmanned systems capabilities and our continued partnership with Sea Machines to further develop USV solutions for our customers.”
Benton said the Proteus can be pre-programmed with waypoints and the vessel operates to them while avoiding obstacles and obeying COLREGs autonomously. It does not need to be manned to operate, but she said there is a remote-control option with a joystick that “can make more sense for high traffic areas.”
She noted the company would use the new USV assets to further develop autonomy capability and sensors to improve perception of the environment.
“With more advanced behaviors and improved environmental perception, USVs will be able to complete increasingly complex missions across different applications,” Benton added.
HII did not disclose the range or other capabilities of Proteus, but underscored this vessel is a starting point for further work.
“We will continue to develop capabilities including multi-agent collaborative autonomy, autonomous health monitoring, advanced perception, machine learning and artificial intelligence. The Proteus USV is our internal test asset, but the developments on the Proteus will help advance our common autonomy platform for unmanned systems across domains,” Benton added.
Last July, HII announced a minority share investment in Sea Machines, which gives the shipbuilder immediate access to the company’s unmanned surface vehicles software. The Boston, Mass.-based company raised $15 million in a new financing round at the time with “significant participation” by HII (Defense Daily, July 22, 2020).
At the time, Sea Machines said the partnership and investment will accelerate its deployment of self-piloting technologies for unmanned vessels.
“Our autonomy systems are built around core principles of capability, reliability and ease of use. This initial Proteus USV demonstration proved the SM300 system performs as promised, and we look forward to our continued partnership with HII—supporting current and coming 21st century operational requirements on water,” Sea Machines CEO Michael Johnson said in a statement.
Sea Machines’ autonomous navigation technology has previously been deployed on large commercial cargo vessels, data collecting survey boats, oil spill response craft, search and rescue, patrol and crew transfer vessels.
The companies highlighted the SM300 system can be outfitted to ocean-capable vessels to enable scalable autonomy, which ranges from remotely controlled vessels to fully autonomous operations.