The Problem of Maritime Robotics to Tackle Vital Issues

Vo2019, CC BY-SA 4.0

The Mohamed Bin Zayed International Robotics Challenge has prizes in excess of $ 3 million. This year, the Maritime Robotics Challenge aims to bring together new technologies to tackle previously unsolvable challenges in the maritime industry.

The following post is a guest post by Dr. Art Morrish, CEO of ASPIRE, who shapes the strategy and development of Abu Dhabi’s advanced technology sector. ASPIRE manages the MBZIRC Maritime Grand Challenge. DRONELIFE neither accepts nor accepts payments for guest posts.

History is full of seemingly unsolvable challenges. In almost all cases, new technology emerged to provide a solution. Take, for example, a rover on Mars or a person on the moon. For a long time it was considered unthinkable. Now it’s a reality.

It’s rarely just a technology or a single “a-ha” moment. Rather, it is a combination of new technologies and the collaboration of different specialist groups that creates these successful breakthroughs.

Over the past few years, with the improvement of drones, the industry has seen an exponential improvement in the uses for the technology. Once in the hands of hobbyists, drones are now checking infrastructures like power lines and pipelines; provide additional security in remote locations and even provide supplies in times of disaster.

Collaboration between maritime robotics, drones and AI

The drone service business will continue to grow with these applications, but forward-thinking drone companies and their engineers will seek partnerships and collaborations with providers of these other technologies to deliver services previously only found in science fiction books. However, in the next few years we will see this shift as various types of current and emerging technologies – including robotics, unmanned vehicles, and AI – are incorporated into drone technology to address persistent problems in a number of industries.

Advances in highly functional lightweight robotic technology coupled with connectivity technologies now enable drones and other robots to work together in a variety of environments. Snake robots, for example, complement drones in pipelines and carry multiple cameras and LED lights as additional levels of functionality.

Innovative advances are being made in coupling drones to unmanned surface vehicles, which work in a coordinated manner to launch launch, recharge and collaborative mapping activities, with the various parts able to communicate with and sense each other.

AI, including image recognition, is being built into drone technology with advances in chip technology and the availability of onboard computing power to give them an unprecedented level of autonomy.

In many ways, the technologists behind the advancements in drones, robotics, other unmanned vehicles, and AI are like middle school boys and girls at their first dance. They know they should band together, but they don’t know who to ask or what exactly to do when they date on the dance floor.

The maritime industry: turning to maritime robotics

One of the industries that rely on drones – whether alone or in combination with other technologies – is the maritime industry. Drones have been a great addition here, but there’s still a lot of untapped and unrealized potential. The maritime industry is facing a number of challenges that have been fundamentally unsolvable (or at least never ending), including: piracy, illegal fishing, smuggling and maintaining coastal security.

These illegal activities continue unabated and place a heavy burden on the security, commercial operations, and economies of nations around the world. None of the measures taken by countries, individually, collectively or unilaterally, have proven effective enough to address the problems. The latest global piracy report from the ICC International Maritime Bureau has listed 40 crew member abductions since early 2021, compared to 22 in Q1 2020.

However, it is hoped that a concerted effort that includes a mixture of technologies can alleviate or even solve many of these problems. The questions at this point are: Which technologies? What can be done to encourage collaboration? And who are the right cooperation partners?

One way to build collaboration is through competitive challenges that provide tangible opportunities for different organizations to partner up. One example is the Mohamed Bin Zayed International Robotics Challenge, an international competition that takes place every two years. The current challenge, the Maritime Grand Challenge, offers more than $ 3 million in prize money to teams building a “system of systems” to combat maritime crime, particularly piracy, illegal fishing and smuggling.

The challenge calls for the integration of different technologies in order to solve real-world security problems. The solution requires a swarm of unmanned aerial vehicles to identify a target ship among several similar ones in open waters in a non-GNSS environment and offload certain items from the target onto an unmanned service vehicle (which requires robotic AI and computer vision) with the fewest errors in the shortest possible time through fully autonomous technologies.

In addition to solving safety problems in maritime transport, the challenge hopes to generate new waves of innovation and development in autonomous systems that can be applied in a number of industries. On a broader level, technology that is designed to protect the maritime industry and the environment will have greater benefits. Imagine an earthquake-ravaged area in a remote location with no cellular or GPS network; or a flood area in an equally isolated area. Such a machine could provide the much needed infrastructure and perform other emergency operations.

These and other scientifically focused challenges drive new waves of innovation and creativity in various technologies and disciplines and accelerate breakthroughs in numerous areas. They stimulate ideas, encourage collaboration, and push the boundaries of advanced technology in a real-world environment that will almost immediately have commercial applications.

You can find innovation everywhere today. From universities, but also research institutions, established companies, start-ups and even individual innovators. The partners who forge the next round of technology-driven solutions will be as diverse as the solutions themselves.

Read more about the MBZIRC Maritime Grand Challenge.

Read more about maritime robotics and unmanned systems: sea freight delivery, use in the ports of Singapore, 24/7 sea delivery, for marine litter and in the Greek Navy.

Dr. Arthur Morrish is Chief Executive Officer at ASPIRE, the dedicated technology program management pillar of the Abu Dhabi Advanced Technology Research Council (ATRC), which was established in May 2020 to shape the emirate’s R&D strategy. ASPIRE manages the MBZIRC Maritime Grand Challenge. Dr. Morrish brings more than 30 years of experience developing and managing innovative, technical solutions to a wide variety of commercial challenges, as well as overseeing multi-million dollar cross-business programs from inception to advanced prototype and then transitioning to internal and external customers.

Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional marketplace for drone services, and a passionate observer of the emerging drone industry and regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has written over 3,000 articles on the commercial drone field and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam graduated from the University of Chicago and has over 20 years experience in high-tech sales and marketing for emerging technologies.
For advice or writing on the drone industry, email Miriam.

TWITTER: @spaldingbarker

Subscribe to DroneLife here.

Related Articles