Unmanned surface vehicle

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Britain's 32 ft (9.8 m) Maritime Autonomy Surface Testbed (MAST) from ASV being tested in London
A passenger USV demonstration at Hampton, Virginia, USA in January 2009
USV used in oceanographic research, June 2011

Unmanned surface vehicles (USV; also known as Unmanned Surface Vessels (USV) or (in some cases) Autonomous Surface Vehicles (ASV)) are boats that operate on the surface of the water without a crew.[citation needed] As early as the end of World War II, remote-controlled USVs were used in minesweeping applications.[1] Since then, advances in USV control systems and navigation technologies have been achieved, resulting in USVs that can be operated remotely (by an operator on land or on a nearby vessel),[2] USVs that operate with partially autonomous control, and USVs (ASVs) that operate fully autonomously.[1] Modern applications and research areas for USVs and ASVs include commercial shipping, environmental and climate monitoring, seafloor mapping,[3] passenger ferries,[4] robotic research,[5] surveillance, military, and naval operations.[1]

USVs are valuable in oceanography, as they are more capable than moored or drifting weather buoys, but far cheaper than the equivalent weather ships and research vessels,[6] and more flexible than commercial-ship contributions. Wave gliders, in particular, harness wave energy for primary propulsion[7] and, with solar cells to power their electronics, have months of marine persistence[8] for both academic[9][10] and naval applications.[11][12]

Powered USVs are a powerful tool for use in hydrographic survey.[5] Using a small USV in parallel to traditional survey vessels as a 'force-multiplier' can double survey coverage and reduce time on-site. This method was used for a survey carried out in the Bering Sea, off Alaska; the ASV Global 'C-Worker 5' autonomous surface vehicle (ASV) collected 2,275 nautical miles of survey, 44% of the project total. This was a first for the survey industry and resulted in a saving of 25 days at sea.[13]

Military applications for USVs include powered seaborne targets and minehunting.[14]

In the future, many unmanned cargo ships are expected to cross the waters.[15]


A Saildrone with NOAAS Oscar Dyson (R 224) in background

A saildrone is a type of unmanned surface vehicle (USV) used primarily in oceans for data collection.[16] Saildrones are wind and solar powered and carry a suite of science sensors and navigational instruments. They can follow a set of remotely prescribed waypoints.[17] The saildrone was invented by Richard Jenkins, a British engineer and adventurer.[18] Saildrones have been used by scientists and research organizations like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to survey the marine ecosystem, fisheries, and weather.[19][20] In January 2019, a small fleet of saildrones was launched to attempt the first autonomous circumnavigation of Antarctica.[21] One of the saildrones completed the mission, traveling 12,500 miles (20,100 km) over the seven month journey while collecting a detailed data set using on board environmental monitoring instrumentation.[22] The University of Washington and the Saildrone company began a joint venture in 2019 called The Saildrone Pacific Sentinel Experiment, which positioned six saildrones along the west coast of the United States to gather atmospheric and ocean data.[23][24]

See also


  1. ^ a b c National Research Council, Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences (5 August 2005). Autonomous Vehicles in Support of Naval Operations. National Academies Press. ISBN 978-0-309-18123-5. Retrieved 15 October 2019.
  2. ^ "USV (UNMANNED SURFACE VEHICLE), APPLICATIONS AND ADVANTAGES". embention.com. Embention. 18 Sep 2015. Retrieved 15 Oct 2019.
  3. ^ Carson, Daniel F. (2019). "An affordable and portable autonomous surface vehicle with obstacle avoidance for coastal ocean monitoring". HardwareX. 6. doi:10.1016/j.ohx.2019.e00059. Retrieved 15 Oct 2019.
  4. ^ "The ferry using Rolls-Royce technology that sails itself". BBC News. Finland. 3 Dec 2018. Retrieved 15 Oct 2019.
  5. ^ a b Manley, Justin E. (2008). "Unmanned Surface Vehicles, 15 Years of Development" (PDF). IEEE Oceanic Engineering Society. Retrieved 14 Oct 2019.
  6. ^ Stevens Institute of Technology student USV Archived 2010-08-11 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ "Carbon Wave Glider". Retrieved 24 February 2016.
  8. ^ "Robot Boats Survive Epic Voyage Across the Pacific — So Far". WIRED. 23 May 2012. Retrieved 24 February 2016.
  9. ^ Autonomous Navigation and Obstacle Avoidance of Unmanned Vessels in Simulated Rough Sea States. 18 November 2011. Retrieved 24 February 2016 – via YouTube.
  10. ^ "Robotica - An experimental setup for autonomous operation of surface vessels in rough seas - Cambridge Journals Online". Retrieved 24 February 2016.
  11. ^ This story was written Amanda D. Stein; Naval Postgraduate School Public Affairs. "NPS Acquires Two USVs, Opens Sea Web Lab for Expanded Undersea Warfare Research". Retrieved 24 February 2016.
  12. ^ "Information Dissemination: Eureka! Wave Glider". Retrieved 24 February 2016.
  13. ^ Andrew Orthmann (2016-11-22). "Bering Sea ASV Force Multiplier". Hydro-international.com. Retrieved 2018-05-10.
  14. ^ "United States Navy Fact File: MINE COUNTERMEASURES UNMANNED SURFACE VEHICLE (MCM USV)". navy.mil. United States Navy. 2 Jan 2019. Retrieved 14 Oct 2019.
  15. ^ "Unmanned cargo ships". Hellenic Shipping News. 17 March 2017. Retrieved 27 May 2018.
  16. ^ "Drones at sea: Unmanned vehicles to expand data collection from far-flung locales - National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration". www.noaa.gov.
  17. ^ Fisher, Adam (2014-02-18). "The Drone That Will Sail Itself Around the World". Wired. ISSN 1059-1028. Retrieved 2019-02-13.
  18. ^ "Bloomberg - Are you a robot?". www.bloomberg.com. Retrieved 2019-02-13.
  19. ^ "Saildrones go where humans can't — or don't want to — to study the world's oceans". The Seattle Times. 2018-07-01. Retrieved 2019-02-13.
  20. ^ "Saildrone Hopes Its Robotic Sailboats Can Save the World by Collecting Precise Climate-Change Data". Inc.com. 2017-06-13. Retrieved 2019-02-13.
  21. ^ "Saildrone Fleet Launches in New Zealand on Epic Journey". www.saildrone.com. Retrieved 2019-02-13.
  22. ^ Vance, Ashlee (5 Aug 2019). "Saildrone's Journey Around Antarctica Uncovers New Climate Clues". Bloomberg Businessweek. Retrieved 15 Oct 2019.
  23. ^ "The Saildrone Pacific Sentinel Experiment". University of Washington. Retrieved 11 November 2019.
  24. ^ "Can Autonomous Weather-Observation Sailboats Improve Forecasts over the U.S.?". Cliff Mass Weather and Climate Blog. Retrieved 11 November 2019.
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