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42 U nmanned surface vehicles, whether operating remotely or autonomously, are seeing two very different and diverging technology trends – and these are opening up new opportunities for USV suppliers. The first trend is a move to large vessels. The last set of maritime regulations were agreed in 2015, with the next to be set in 2020. Those for 2020 are expected to allow autonomous ships to be deployed, so large shipbuilders are looking at the technologies they will need to build and operate them. That will have a major impact on vessels for bulk shipment of materials, including oil and gas, and fishing trawlers. With that in mind, Rolls-Royce has demonstrated the world’s first remotely operated commercial vessel, and set up a dedicated r&d centre in Turku, Finland. At the same time, Kongsberg Maritime in Norway has teamed up with local materials company Yara on designing a prototype commercial USV, which will be tested at Trondheim in Norway. The second trend relates to smaller craft that are already being operated autonomously, albeit with the requirement to have line-of-sight control. That requirement will also be lifted in 2020, and the industry is seeing a new way of operating as a result. It will have an impact on the way undersea and oceanic surveys are carried out as the makers of such craft deploy them in a different way. This new approach, known as robotics as a service (RaaS), sees the designer and manufacturer of the USV keep ownership and rent out the vessels for applications such as surveying the seabed. That means customers do not need to operate large support ships, which can cost thousands of dollars a day, and only pay for the time the survey is being carried out – even if it is on the other side of the world. It is the ability for a USV to travel to the survey site independently that opens up this new approach. Fishing Designers of autonomous USVs for fishing are looking at electric power for such vessels. Battery power has less of an advantage for craft at sea without an easy way to recharge the batteries automatically, but the control systems for electric motors can be more refined, and the batteries also support the additional sensors that are needed for autonomous operation. The Trondheim 43  trawler for example has been designed to meet Ocean Category A Certification standards that cover self-sufficient boats that can be Emerging maritime technologies and regulations are signalling a sea change for operators of unmanned vessels, as Nick Flahert y explains Ship-shape August/September 2017 | Unmanned Systems Technology Rolls-Royce is developing a range of designs for unmanned shipping ready for full autonomous operation in 2020 (Courtesy of Rolls-Royce)