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The University of Southampton

Autonomous maritime mission management advanced in Southampton-Thales fellowship

Published: 1 March 2021
Ben Pritchard
Ben Pritchard has partnered with university engineers for the prestigious fellowship

Collaborative research between Thales and the University of Southampton is demonstrating how complex operations involving multiple autonomous vessels can be run at squad level.

Ben Pritchard, Research Group Leader for Autonomous Systems at Thales, is partnering with experts from the School of Engineering in a new Industrial Fellowship from the Royal Academy of Engineering.

The research will understand how human supervisors can best interact with squads of mixed maritime autonomous systems - in the air, on the surface and under the water - to maximise human-system team performance.

Once the technology has been proven in this demanding environment, researchers hope to apply the capability to other sectors, from space to rail systems.

“This Fellowship will allow me to expand my role in an existing research partnership between Thales UK and the University of Southampton,” Ben says. “We have completed an ambitious first year of joint research during 2019 with phase two now ramping up into 2021.

“The work focuses on the creation of an experimental cyber-physical platform through which we can conduct new research,” he continued. “It's known as the Integrated Mission Management System and allows us to bring together a variety of autonomous assets that Southampton already own and connect them together as a heterogeneous squad to deliver a shared, collaborative capability to satisfy high level objectives.”

To enhance the learning exchange, Ben will also play a role in helping the University to enhance its engineering curriculum, mentor PhD students, support relevant student societies and undertake shared outreach activities. He will also connect the University to Thales’s wider network of key stakeholders that are leading on research and development, such as Thales CortAIx, one of the world's leading Artificial Intelligence ecosystems based in Montreal.

Dr Jon Downes, Lecturer in Ship Science and Engineering who is also the Employability and Industrial Liaison for Southampton’s Ship Science degree courses, said: “Working with Thales enables us to build a common understanding of industrial needs and for my research to be focused on the areas that are fundamental challenges to the sector. Working with Ben through this fellowship will strengthen this common understanding and continue to develop the strategic partnership.”

This winter, the University were also awarded an Industrial Fellowship for Dr Basel Halak in the School of Electronics and Computer Science. This second successive fellowship with security experts Arm Holdings will focus on Artificial Intelligence-enhanced design for secure, anti-tamper embedded devices.

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