UK-based defense contractor BAE Systems announced it has been awarded £457,000 to design and deliver the UK’s first dedicated autonomous systems testing service.
The grants were awarded by the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), a locally-owned partnership between businesses and authorities.
Based around Portsmouth, Southampton and the South East of the Isle of Wight, BAE Systems together with ASV Global (ASV), Blue Bear Systems Research (Blue Bear), Marine Electronic Systems (MES), SeeByte and the University of Southampton, will work together to provide the service’s infrastructure, with other organisations set to join later this year, the company said.
Together the Solent LEP and partner organisations are investing £1.5 million in this project, the first of its kind in the UK.
According to BAE Systems, the new service will be ready for use later this year and customers will be able to conduct trials and test systems such as unmanned boats, air vehicles and autonomous sensors in a safe, controlled and realistic environment in the Solent. The service 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.
In October 2016, BAE Systems and the test service partners showcased their autonomous maritime capabilities in the Royal Navy’s ‘Unmanned Warrior’ exercise. One of the unmanned boats used in the Unmanned Warrior exercise was BAE Systems’ Pacific Class 950 Unmanned Rigid Inflatable Boat which is capable of travelling autonomously at up to 47kts for up to 12 hours at a time. BAE Systems says the autonomous technology on the Pacific Class 950 can be retro-fitted to existing boats.