Marine

Royal Navy's self-driving speedboat takes to the Thames

The MAST unmanned surface vessel (USV) has made its public debut on the Thames
The MAST unmanned surface vessel (USV) has made its public debut on the Thames
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The MAST will take part in the Unmanned Warrior exercise in coming months
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The MAST will take part in the Unmanned Warrior exercise in coming months
The MAST with HMS Archer
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The MAST with HMS Archer
The MAST passing Tower Bridge
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The MAST passing Tower Bridge
The MAST with HMS Archer by Tower Bridge and HMS Belfast
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The MAST with HMS Archer by Tower Bridge and HMS Belfast
The MAST unmanned surface vessel (USV) has made its public debut on the Thames
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The MAST unmanned surface vessel (USV) has made its public debut on the Thames
The MAST in front of the Houses of Parliament
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The MAST in front of the Houses of Parliament

The Royal Navy's latest seagoing robot took to the waves today in the heart of London. Accompanied by patrol boat HMS Archer, the unmanned 32-ft (9.7-m) Maritime Autonomy Surface Testbed (MAST) autonomous speedboat negotiated traffic on the Thames estuary between Tower Bridge and Westminster bridge as part of the run-up to the Unmanned Warrior naval exercises.

Today's trial marks the public debut of the unmanned surface vessel (USV). It is based on the Bladerunner hull which sees a deep-vee catamaran shape with a foil between the hulls to allow for increased stability while planing at high speed. It's being developed by Portchester-based ASV Ltd as a testbed for new technologies, as well as for studying new tactics for robotic craft.

The MAST is not designed to carry weapons, but rather for surveillance and reconnaissance roles. It can operate in a number of modes ranging from remote control to full autonomy, but it differs from other USVs in that it's made to operate autonomously at high speeds. In addition, it has avoidance algorithms that not only allow it to negotiate crowded waterways, but do so in compliance with internationally mandated collision regulations.

The MAST with HMS Archer by Tower Bridge and HMS Belfast
The MAST with HMS Archer by Tower Bridge and HMS Belfast

However, for today's runabout the MAST had a coxswain on board ready to take control in the event of an emergency in the crowded metropolitan waterway.

The MAST will be one of over 40 robotic craft, which will take part in Unmanned Warrior 2016, which is scheduled to take place in coming months off the coast of West Wales, North West Scotland, and the Western Isles. Part of the Joint Warrior fleet naval exercises, it's billed as the largest of its kind ever conducted and emphasizes Anti-Submarine Warfare; Information, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, and Reconnaissance; Command and Control; Hydrographic and Geointelligence; and Mine Countermeasures (MCM).

"This is a chance to take a great leap forward in Maritime Systems," says Fleet Robotics Officer Commander Peter Pipkin. "Not to take people out of the loop but to enhance everything they do, to extend our reach, our look, our timescales, our efficiency using intelligent and manageable robotics at sea."

Source: Royal Navy

4 comments
ChrisWalker
why? words to explain why this is needed? anyone?
Bob Flint
Let's hope the coxswain on board ready to take control in the event of an emergency in the crowded metropolitan waterway isn't watching a Harry Potter movie.
RJB
The main objections to warfare / military action is casualties to own troops. If you eliminate live troops from that scenario you obviously eliminate the body count and injuries and therefore the level of objections to the war / fight / adventure. Huge sums of money are being spent, particularly by USA, on research and development of autonomous aircraft, battle tanks, naval vessels etc. The casualty-free war coming to a country near you - soon.
Nik
While all these autonomous vehicles are battling each other, freeing up thousands of personel, the enemy invades in larger numbers, and they become irrelevant?