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University will be part of UK’s first maritime autonomous systems testing service

Published: 17 July 2017
Photo of driverless boat in Solent
Testing a driverless boat in the Solent. Credit: BAE Systems

The University of Southampton will play a key role in the development and delivery of the UK’s first service dedicated to the testing of autonomous systems – including unmanned boats, air vehicles and sensors – following a major investment in partner organisation BAE Systems by The Solent Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).

Solent LEP has awarded BAE Systems a grant of £457,000 to design and deliver the service around Portsmouth, Southampton and the south-east of the Isle of Wight.

The service will allow users to conduct trials and test autonomous systems in a safe, controlled and realistic environment in the Solent.

As well as its academic expertise, the University will contribute a command and control van and platforms including underwater, surface and aerial vehicles.

The University will work alongside BAE Systems, ASV Global (ASV), Blue Bear Systems Research (Blue Bear), Marine Electronic Systems (MES) and SeeByte to provide the service’s infrastructure, with others set to join later this year.

Altogether the Solent LEP and partner organisations are investing £1.5 million in the project, set to be available for users later this year.

James Scanlan, Professor of Design within Engineering and the Environment at the University of Southampton, said: “The autonomous test range represents a huge step forward in being able to bring technology from the laboratory to realistic testing and exploitation.

“This is an exciting and significant development for the University, as we are one of the international leaders in unmanned platform technology.”

The proposed service was announced during a two-day launch event at the Royal Marines Museum in Eastney, Portsmouth.

Picture of the command and control van.
University of Southampton's command and control van.

It will make use of a secure maritime communications network, and a mobile command and control centre featuring the same technology BAE Systems provides to UK Royal Navy platforms. Full safety certification will also be offered.

BAE Systems’ Combat Systems Head of Technology, Frank Cotton, said: “Autonomous and unmanned systems are widely regarded as a vital technology for the future, but there is a great deal of work to be done if we are to unlock their true potential and understand how they are best integrated into wider systems.

“A wide range of organisations from the defence and commercial sectors, along with academia, have ambitions for this technology, and this unique service will allow them to find valuable ways to use it whilst furthering its development.

“The Solent area has a growing number of world-class organisations operating in the autonomy sector, and we are excited to be working with ASV, Blue Bear, MES, SeeByte and the University of Southampton to launch the concept this week.”

Solent LEP Maritime Chairman Ian Millen added: “The Solent is the heart of the UK’s marine and maritime sector and the assets we possess enable the region, its businesses and the UK economy to compete globally.

“The key to this success has always been founded in innovation and, through our investment to create the UK’s first autonomous systems testing system in the Solent, the LEP will ensure that the area and its businesses, large and small, continue to be a driving force for UK innovation for years to come.”

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