Today, marine autonomy complements conventional ship-based research expeditions: the ship+ model. The FMRI programme envisages a future where networked swarms of autonomous platforms provide continuous monitoring of the world’s ocean with ships playing a niche role within this: the +ship model. Interactive command, control and communications systems will then provide scientists with near real time data and the ability to interact with deployed assets in a dynamic way. The FMRI Platforms & Autonomy theme will deliver the technology and facilities required for upscaling of marine autonomy to provide continuous presence.

Upscaling of marine autonomy

The under-sampling of the ocean can be addressed through the scaling up of Marine Autonomous Systems if we can develop the sensors required to address the twin-challenges of precision and accuracy.

The NZOC Scoping Study found that NERC should expect to double the size of its autonomous fleet every five years with an aspiration of operating 200+ Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) and Uncrewed Surface Vehicles (USVs) by 2035. This will capitalise on a vibrant market for marine autonomy with commercial interest in the offshore energy and defence sectors driving private investment in technology development.

The FMRI programme will combine investment in affordable Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) technology with bespoke development of platforms that are required to address operating environments where there is limited commercial interest (e.g. deep-rated platforms). The programme will also invest in validation and demonstrator missions to build confidence, expertise and skills around these new capabilities.

One Ocean

Drawing on learning from initiatives such as the global Argo programme, FMRI will seek to build international partnerships between public sector organisations and the growing commercial interest in autonomous ocean observing. Pooling data from autonomous fleets will offer scientists greatly enhanced spatial coverage and the ability to deliver new scientific understanding.

The upscaling of marine autonomy will gather new and different data, thereby generating exciting new opportunities for sustainable ocean science.

Dr Alex Phillips, Head of Marine Autonomous and Robotic Systems Group (NOC)