Thales UK has established a new centre of excellence for maritime autonomous systems in Plymouth, southwest England, which the company intends to develop as the focal point for a regional enterprise cluster.
Formally opened on 11 October by Minister for Defence Procurement Stuart Andrew, the Maritime Autonomous Systems Trials and Evaluation Centre represents a GBP1 million company investment. As well as supporting Thales' own activities, most notably the French/United Kingdom Maritime Mine Countermeasures (MMCM) demonstrator programme, the waterfront facility at Turnchapel Wharf is being groomed as a regional hub for the wider industrial and academic 'ecosystem' involved in the development of autonomous systems.
According to Thales, the new centre - employing 20 specialist staff, offers a secure location for industry, academia, and operators to conduct evaluations and assessment of autonomous platforms and systems. Previously used as a base for a Royal Marines small boat/landing craft squadron, the site affords easy access to sea areas for the conduct of trials.
Facilities include meeting rooms, office space, and network services, with adjacent water side facilities including fully equipped workshops and storage, and platform mooring for multiple craft. The first-generation unmanned surface vessel (USV) Halcyon , built by Thales and ASV to serve as an unmanned systems demonstrator, will be permanently based at Turnchapel.
Matt Hunt, Thales UK's maritime autonomy systems lead, told Jane's, "We have set up the centre to integrate, validate, and qualify maritime autonomous systems, not just in defence and security but also addressing the commercial and offshore oil/gas markets. Our aim is that the centre will transform the way autonomous capability is developed over the next decade by enabling rapid exploration and exploitation of emergent and disruptive technologies."
Thales is working with Plymouth City Council and industry partners to establish a dedicated trials range, encompassing both shallow and deep water areas that will provide a controlled environment for maritime autonomous systems development.
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