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What is an uncrewed surface vessel (USV)?

Uncrewed surface vessels, or USVs, are autonomous boats or ships which operate without an onboard crew. With the vessels being operated from the shore or from a nearby crewed vessel, uncrewed surface vessels offer scalable, cost effective and sustainable solutions to the challenges of ocean management, whilst also reducing risk and enhancing safety as fewer personnel are out at sea. 


Uncrewed surface vessel solutions

Uncrewed surface vessels offer a range of monitoring solutions, whether for the purposes of oceanography, national security, marine life and marine protected areas, or to increase surveillance of offshore infrastructure. 


Uncrewed surface vessels also offer protection in monitoring offshore infrastructure, as well as for border control forces or environmental monitoring bodies, as they have the capacity to track data for extended periods of time, and are hugely efficient, both in terms of cost and in terms of energy. Customers can benefit from a 30% capital cost reduction and estimated 50% operational cost reduction vs current crewed diesel vessel approach. Uncrewed surface vessels, much like manned vessels, can come equipped with hi-fi cameras to produce video content for use in monitoring or judicial purposes.


USVs: distributed maritime operations

Uncrewed Surface Vessels can be operated as a swarm in order to increase reliability and the scope of data. In a sensor network, individual vessels behave as an intersection or ‘node’, able to communicate with other vessels in the swarm, thus providing highly reliable data from a range of locations. In the absence of an onboard crew, the vessel is operated by humans either from another, manned vessel, or from land, essentially allowing more time to be spent tracking and intellectualising data trends, instead of manpower and energy being spent solely on data collection. 


Remote operated vs autonomous USVs

One of the key questions regarding uncrewed surface vessels is whether they are remote operated or autonomous; referred to as “man in the loop” versus “man on the loop”. The majority of  USVs fall into the first category whereby a remotely located operator is involved in the major decision making of the vessel i.e “in the loop”, however the trend is towards increased levels of situational autonomy such as AI based collision avoidance which will ultimately deliver the ability for an overseeing operator to be called to operated the vessel in predefined scenarios.


Sustainable USV solutions

Due to their increasingly popular use as climate monitoring vessels, there is a need for uncrewed surface vessels to avoid producing waste of emissions. ACUA Ocean, a British maritime cleantech startup, is developing the world’s first long endurance uncrewed surface vessel powered by liquid hydrogen (H-USV). Their USVs will release no carbon emissions and will become the first purpose-built USV to operate using only hydrogen fuel.

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