Sea Platforms

M Subs and Thales pursue AI boost for unmanned vessels

21 January 2019

Two Thales unmanned surface vessels are pictured entering Plymouth Sound for the first time. Source: Thales

M Subs and Thales UK are developing artificial intelligence (AI) technology that will help unmanned vessels travel independently and negotiate contact with other vessels.

The work is part of a teaming agreement between Thales and M Subs, a manufacturer of commercial and military submersibles that has a heavy focus on the AI space. In January M Subs installed a sensor system with connected machine-learning technology around Plymouth Sound. The system will provide command and control (C2), situational awareness, and support communications for unmanned vessels in the area, where Thales opened a maritime autonomy centre in October 2018.

The companies view the new infrastructure in Plymouth as a research and development (R&D) asset to study the potential of machine learning applications in unmanned vessels, Brett Phaneuf, managing director of M Subs, told Jane's .

Phaneuf noted that Plymouth Sound serves as "a big, natural laboratory" to study several aspects of AI in unmanned vessels, with access to the C2 infrastructure to control the vehicle, as well as the technology to monitor both manned and unmanned vessels operating in the common water space.

The data gathered in Plymouth Sound - showing how AI-enabled unmanned vessels interact with other ships, for instance - will then be analysed using machine learning techniques, and used to build more sophisticated AI in areas such as navigation.

The plan has several dimensions, such as teaching the AI on board the vessels to recognise and understand information from radar, infrared, and optical data to Automated Information Systems (AIS), "right down to learning what a specific ship might be and how it might move and interact in a space", Phaneuf said. The infrastructure enables the companies to test how AI could work in various scenarios, he added.

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