Marine robotics company, Sonardyne International Ltd. has demonstrated technologies that will aid autonomous vehicle operations in challenging environments under a project funded by the UK’s national Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA).
Working with a 12 m-long SEA-KIT X class unmanned surface vehicle (USV), Sonardyne tested and validated sensors already used by unmanned underwater vehicles for use on USVs in support of missions in coastal waters
Specifically, Sonardyne’s market leading SPRINT-Nav hybrid inertial navigation instrument was integrated into a SEA-KIT X and tested against local real-time kinematic (RTK) GPS positioning, as part of the DASA programme to fast-track autonomous vehicle capability in challenging or harsh conditions.
Loss of satellite-based timing signals needed for navigation and positioning can occur in ports and harbours around tall structures or close to cliffs or inside fjords, where GPS or GNSS receivers may not have a clear line of sight with the sky. It can also happen through deliberate signal jamming or degrading of performance, known as spoofing.
Sonardyne’s SPRINT-Nav is already proven as a reliable navigation instrument for unmanned underwater vehicles, which operate in what is effectively a GPS or GNSS denied environment. Now it will also be used to provide a high integrity, continuously available navigation solution for a USV, like SEA-KIT X, operating in littoral zones in water depths up to 150 m.
SEA-KIT is a 10,000 nautical mile-range vessel able to carry up to 2.5 tonnes of payload and deploy and recover autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) and remotely operated vehicles (ROVs). This capability, and flexibility, means it is well suited to support naval missions including intelligence gathering, hydrographic survey and as a communications gateway.
Ioseba Tena, Global Business Manager, Defence and Marine Robotics at Sonardyne, says, “Most USVs rely on uninterrupted GPS or GNSS signal updates to inform their situational awareness and plot a course safely. When there’s no signal, or what’s called spoofing or jamming, USVs must consider alternative navigation sensors and instruments or they need to be remotely piloted adding expense and risk to over-the-horizon operations.
“By integrating SPRINT-Nav onto a USV, such as SEA-KIT, we have shown we can overcome this challenge, providing a continuous and resilient navigation in denied environments capability that will be ideally suited to challenging operations such as mine-counter measures (MCM).”
In total, 21 contracts were awarded by DASA, on behalf of the UK’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), amounting to £2.1 million in funding. The awards are part of the Autonomy in a Dynamic World competition, launched last year, which aims to address factors that affect the military effectiveness of current autonomous technologies.
“The work being funded is to mature autonomous systems with the capability to operate on demand, under all conditions that may be encountered. Military operations are undertaken in all kinds of challenging environment. The inclusion of autonomous systems in these operations will demand their ability to operate effectively and efficiently regardless of the environment.”
The competition is funded through the MOD’s Chief Scientific Adviser’s Research Programme’s Autonomy Incubator project that aims to: Identify and develop underpinning research and technologies to support the development and fielding of unmanned systems across defence which may be matured through the Dstl Autonomy Programme and other Research and Development programmes.
Dstl delivers high-impact science and technology for the UK’s defence, security and prosperity. Dstl is an Executive Agency of the MOD with around 4,000 staff working across four sites; Porton Down, near Salisbury, Portsdown West, near Portsmouth, Fort Halstead, near Sevenoaks, and Alverstoke, near Gosport.