Eco Marine Power (EMP) has unveiled high level design plans for an unmanned surface vessel (USV) to be powered by a solar-electric hybrid system. The Aquarius USV project began in 2011 and a prototype is expected in 2015. It will mostly be used for data collection and monitoring purposes.

EMP focuses on developing technology aimed at reducing fuel and emissions for shipping, such as a rigid sail that harnesses both wind and solar energy to propel ships named EnergySail from 2012.

The Aquarius USV also harnesses the power of the sun. It features an array of marine-grade, flexible solar panels spanning its trimaran structure that charges its on-board lithium-ion batteries. Power can also be supplied via ship or shore rapid battery charging technology. A variation of the vessel will feature the EnergySail technology.

In order to operate and to collect data, the craft will feature a sophisticated on-board computer system, as well as a variety of sensors. Its systems will be based on the KEI 3240 platform, a marine computer system that EMP says, "has proven itself to be reliable on hundreds of vessels ranging from tugboats to ocean going bulk ore carriers and tankers."

Sensors will be used to collect data from both above and below the waterline. Data can be stored on the craft's systems, or automatically relayed back to shore. Data connection links include Wi-Fi, mobile phone or satellite networks.

EMP says that the Aquarius USV will typically be suited to tasks such as monitoring harbor pollution, oceanographic surveys, maritime park surveillance, coastal border patrols and marine data collection. The firm says it can also be modified for use in a stealth capacity.

The latest design shows the Aquarius USV being 5 m (16.4 ft) in length, with a beam (widest span) of 8 m (26.2 ft) and a draft (depth in the water) of 1 m (3.3 ft). It is to be constructed from lightweight composite and marine-grade aluminum and have a cruising speed of up to 6 knots.

Lab testing of technologies that will be used by the Aquarius USV has already begun, with operational testing of the planned prototype expected to begin next year.