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Royal Navy in partnership to build robotics and autonomous training centre

Autonomous Mast13 boat on trials with the Royal Navy in Norway. LPhot Joe Cater
The Royal Navy is set to be involved in Europe’s first maritime operations and training centre for robotic vehicles.

Joined by Seabot XR and the UK National Oceanography Centre (NOC), the facility will future-proof training for civilian and military vessel operations.

The partners, all active members of the Solent Maritime Enterprise Zone, signed an Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to create the National Centre for Operational Excellence in Marine Robotics, based in Southampton.

The MoU brings together the expertise of the three key players in Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships operations and autonomous sub-surface operational training. Together, they will create the centre that will deliver new standards of training using the world-renowned facilities at the UK NOC and other satellite facilities.

The requirements for marine robotics training are very different to those which exist in the maritime training sector today. To address this gap, a curriculum is being created specifically for autonomous and remote vessel surface and sub-surface operations to ensure a workforce, like the Royal Navy's, has the necessary skills and knowledge to operate vessels.

Commodore Andrew Cree, deputy director future training of the Royal Navy said: “This initiative is testament to the Solent MEZ’s enterprise approach. It connects ideas, people and organisations, it generates collaborations around a shared vision and then delivers.  

"This new centre of excellence is a case in point and marks a pivotal change in maritime as the RN constantly seeks ways to optimise technology to support RN operations and to prepare our people with the skills required to operate new technologies, surface and sub-surface autonomous vessels being a priority. Addressing the future skills requirements in this field is a game-changer and is essential for success.”

 

The MoU will see a combined training and testing site where companies can try out their own autonomous and remote-controlled vessels as well as tap into pioneering in-person training designed for military and civil marine operations. Customers will have access to a remote operations centre and various surface and sub-surface vessels to experiment with different weather and tidal conditions, vessel features and operational practicalities.

Gordon Meadow, founder and chief executive of SeaBot XR, said: “We are delighted to be working with the Royal Navy and NOC to provide a future-proofed approach to maritime training.

"Current training available for seafarers of crewed vessels has served the industry well for decades, but many of the training methods and much of the curriculum cannot be applied to autonomous and remote vessel operations.

"Digitalisation is the next frontier in maritime and so requires a fresh approach to workforce training. It is vital that training is developed alongside the technology so that it serves humans to their advantage.”

Huw Gullick, managing director of innovations and associate director, strategic business at NOC, added: “The National Oceanography Centres research in autonomous vehicles is supported by the world-class testing equipment available on our sites.

"Through this MoU we hope to provide companies with the opportunity to train their workforce in above and sub-surface remote operations, and benefit from the expertise brought together through the MoU.”

The centre of excellence will be based at NOC’s two UK testing facilities in Southampton, England and Loch Ness, Scotland, and will be officially launched at the Marine Autonomy Technology Showcase exhibition, MATS Southampton, in November.

 

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