UK’s Plymouth Marine Laboratory to develop long-range autonomous research vessel

Photo: Plymouth Marine Laboratory

UK research organisation Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) has revealed designs for what it says will be the world’s first long-range autonomous research vessel.

Named Oceanus, the craft has been designed as a self-righting, lightweight, mono-hulled autonomous vessel capable of carrying an array of monitoring sensors to collect data for research into critical areas such as climate change, biodiversity, fisheries, and biogeochemistry.

Designed primarily to make the transatlantic sampling voyage from the UK to the Falklands, Oceanus will carry an advanced scientific payload and use the latest AI technology to help navigate the best course to its target location, with real-time input from weather forecasts and other marine data feeds.

The command centre for Oceanus will be hosted at PML and will display oceanographic conditions in near-real time across the vessel’s transect, providing scientists and other users with open access to the latest and most robust oceanographic data.

In situ sampling will still be needed at times to validate the autonomously collected data and to perform more complex monitoring and experiments that require proximity to the sample sources. However, PML said that autonomy on this scale will allow for radically more responsive and more frequent data collections at a wider range than currently possible, helping to plug any gaps in datasets and greatly improve marine modelling.

Oceanus is being developed by PML with the cooperation of unmanned systems specialist M Subs. The project is supported by seed funding from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

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