Unmanned surface and underwater vessels will dominate maritime activity in the United Kingdom and across Europe over the next decade, according to a new report on the future of autonomous maritime systems.
Networks of autonomous surface and underwater vessels are set to radically change the nature of maritime operations, according to the follow-up to Global Marine Technology Trends 2030, produced by Lloyd's Register, QinetiQ, and the University of Southampton.
"Developments widely reported in the media, such as those in autonomous shipping, are happening with greater pace than expected as little as two years ago," explains Tim Kent, technical director, marine and offshore, for technical and business services organization Lloyd's Register. "These developments enabled by technology provide new opportunities and potential for disruptive business models."
The principal challenges, however, will be integrating these autonomous systems into current maritime operations, meeting legal and regulatory requirements, and determining the impact on seafarers.
"Technological advances in consumer and adjacent markets are a real opportunity for the maritime sector," adds Bill Biggs, senior campaign leader for autonomy at QinetiQ.
Applied artificial intelligence, low-cost and smaller sensors, increased connectivity, improved cyber security, and improved energy management are all likely to drive rapid and disruptive change, Biggs notes.
Some navies and transport companies have already begun trials to demonstrate the opportunities that autonomous maritime systems present. For example, in 2016, QinetiQ supported Unmanned Warrior, the largest demonstration of its type ever conducted, running as part of a major multinational naval exercise.
"It's just one example of the steps the United Kingdom is taking to keep up with the accelerating pace of change," Biggs says.