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What is an unmanned surface vessel (USV)?

Unmanned surface vessel use cases

An unmanned surface vessel, or a USV, is an autonomous boat or ship which operates without an onboard crew. Unmanned surface vessels are valuable for their high endurance and for a range of monitoring purposes, whether for the purposes of oceanography, national security, marine life and marine protected areas, or to increase surveillance of offshore infrastructure. Unmanned surface vessels also offer protection to offshore infrastructure at a time when subsea cables and offshore wind farms are becoming more and more crucial in sustaining national energy demands, as well as national and international communication. 


What is the difference between unmanned surface vessels and uncrewed surface vessels?

The term unmanned surface vessel is largely inaccurate, as in most instances USVs are remote operated or require some degree of “man in the loop” - therefore by its very nature such vessels are manned, just remotely. As such many organisations such as ACUA Ocean prefer to use the term uncrewed surface vessel which denotes that the vessel is unmanned by way of a crew, but that is manned through remote operation.


Unmanned surface vessel swarms

Distributed maritime operations, otherwise referred to as swarm operations mean that unmanned surface vessels can provide improved geographical coverage and data collection, acting as both a deterrent to those committing illegal activities, as well as providing a means of intercepting vessels and recording high resolution footage for prosecution. In a sensor network, each individual vessel behaves 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. 


Are unmanned surface vessels the future of clean maritime operations?

Due to their increasing popularity across commercial and environmental use cases, there is a need for USVs to avoid producing waste emissions. ACUA Ocean, a British maritime cleantech startup, is developing the world’s first long endurance unmanned 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. By utilising the latest in AI and computer vision technology to detect threats and anomalies such as objects in the water, oil spills and incursions, ACUA’s H-USVs will be instrumental in monitoring British seas. These unmanned surface vessels have a long endurance of 40-60 days at 4 knts, with reduced maintenance requirements, meaning increased operational time on site. They are, therefore, a more humane, more cost-efficient solution to the need for increased maritime monitoring and surveillance.

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