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Exploring autonomous systems solutions for challenging environments for DASA

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Systems, engineering and technology company, Frazer-Nash Consultancy, with the University of Exeter, has been awarded a contract by The Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA) as part of its Autonomy in a Dynamic World competition.

As one of the 21 contracts, worth a total £2.1 million, awarded by DASA, Frazer-Nash and the University of Exeter teams will be developing the proof-of-concept for a new system to help unmanned autonomous vehicles (UAVs, often known as drones) to land on board moving ships in challenging sea states.

Project Manager, Chris Ward, described some of the challenges involved, and how the system will help to overcome these:

“There are two main reasons why it’s so challenging to launch and recover aircraft from a ship: the first is that the ship is constantly moving; the second is due to the airwake – the wind flowing over and around the ship – which creates turbulence. Manned aircraft rely heavily on highly experienced pilots to ensure safe launch and recovery; but unmanned systems don’t have that luxury. Instead, that pilot experience has to be replaced by new technologies to help with flight decisions.

“We’re combining our experience of working with the Navy on Ship-Air Integration, with the academic expertise of the University of Exeter, to develop a system that uses real-time LiDAR scanning to identify the incoming wind patterns, and predicts how those will change. The system will then be able to provide advice to the operator, or to the UAV itself, on safe launch and recovery windows.”

As part of the project, Frazer-Nash and the University of Exeter will be speaking to a range of stakeholders – from the Royal Navy, to OEMs and technology developers – to identify their requirements, and how these can be delivered by the system. Chris adds:

“It’s all about maximising the capability of the ship as a whole. From expanding the operational envelope, to reducing the cost of getting clearances, to managing risk in a better way. Our research aims to ensure that these novel unmanned technologies are able to deliver their full benefits within the challenging operating conditions at sea

Further information

 About the University of Exeter

  • Professor Michael Belmont and Dr Jacqueline Christmas at the University of Exeter have proved the underlying technologies through a number of sea trials with the Ministry of Defence and previous work with Frazer-Nash. They are looking forward to continuing to work with Frazer-Nash to develop these systems to improve the safety of maritime UAV operations.

The research of the Marine Dynamics group at Exeter University is focused upon: Short Term Deterministic Prediction of the wave and wind forces that impact on marine operations. A major thread of the group’s work is to increase the envelope of wave and wind conditions under which maritime operations can be safely conducted. The capability to do so adds significant value and acts as a strong economic driver for the research. Typical operations of interest are: the launch and recovery of helicopters and fixed wing air-vehicles, transfers of cargo and personnel between vessels and from vessel to fixed installations, and the launch and recovery of small surface craft and submersibles of various types.

The traditional approach to assessing if the wave and wind forces exceed safe limits for marine operations has been based upon the short term statistics of the wave and wind driven effects. In contrast, it is well recognised that if the actual time dependence of waves and wind could be predicted a short time in advance then marine operations could be safely carried out under conditions that the statistical approach would indicate were unacceptable. This is because by definition there are always time intervals when waves and wind are significantly less than the averages returned by statistics. Such quiet periods are termed Quiescent Periods and this new area of research is termed consequently Quiescent Period Prediction. The statistical approach was forced upon the marine community because such Quiescent Period Prediction required remote measurement of the wave and wind system for several kilometres around the vessel of interest. It has now become possible to make such measurements and to use them as inputs to predictive models making the required Deterministic Predictions.

The Exeter Marine Dynamics group internationally pioneered this new research discipline, and has worked extensively with UK government and a range of large and small industrial partners to bring this new capability to the market. The DASA project with Frazer Nash Partners is a prime example of such collaboration.

A second major applications thread of the group’s research is helping to deliver the promise of in wave energy. It is well known that if Short Term Deterministic Predictions of Sea Waves were available it would be possible to considerably improve the performance per unit cost of wave energy capture technologies. The Exeter group and its partners have pioneered the use of such predictive wave forces in the operation of wave energy converters with the promise of up to halving the installed capacity cost of wave energy capture farms.