Unmanned surface vehicle

Unmanned surface vehicles (USV; also known as Unmanned Surface Vessels (USV) or (in some cases) Autonomous Surface Vehicles (ASV)) are boats that operate on the surface of the water without a crew.[1] As early as the end of World War II, remote-controlled USVs were used in minesweeping applications.[2] Since then, advances in USV control systems and navigation technologies have been achieved, resulting in USVs that can be operated remotely (by an operator on land or on a nearby vessel),[3] USVs that operate with partially autonomous control, and USVs (ASVs) that operate fully autonomously.[2] Modern applications and research areas for USVs and ASVs include commercial shipping,[4] environmental and climate monitoring, seafloor mapping,[4][5] passenger ferries,[6] robotic research,[7] surveillance, inspection of bridges and other infrastructure,[8] military, and naval operations.[2]

USVs are valuable in oceanography, as they are more capable than moored or drifting weather buoys, but far cheaper than the equivalent weather ships and research vessels,[9] and more flexible than commercial-ship contributions. Wave gliders, in particular, harness wave energy for primary propulsion[10] and, with solar cells to power their electronics, have months of marine persistence[11] for both academic[12][13] and naval applications.[14][15]

Powered USVs are a powerful tool for use in hydrographic survey.[7] Using a small USV in parallel to traditional survey vessels as a 'force-multiplier' can double survey coverage and reduce time on-site. This method was used for a survey carried out in the Bering Sea, off Alaska; the ASV Global 'C-Worker 5' autonomous surface vehicle (ASV) collected 2,275 nautical miles of survey, 44% of the project total. This was a first for the survey industry and resulted in a saving of 25 days at sea.[16]

Military applications for USVs include powered seaborne targets and minehunting.[17]

In the future, many unmanned cargo ships are expected to cross the waters.[18]


A saildrone is a type of unmanned surface vehicle (USV) used primarily in oceans for data collection.[19] Saildrones are wind and solar powered and carry a suite of science sensors and navigational instruments. They can follow a set of remotely prescribed waypoints.[20] The saildrone was invented by Richard Jenkins, a British engineer and adventurer.[21] Saildrones have been used by scientists and research organizations like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to survey the marine ecosystem, fisheries, and weather.[22][23] In January 2019, a small fleet of saildrones was launched to attempt the first autonomous circumnavigation of Antarctica.[24] One of the saildrones completed the mission, traveling 12,500 miles (20,100 km) over the seven month journey while collecting a detailed data set using on board environmental monitoring instrumentation.[25] The University of Washington and the Saildrone company began a joint venture in 2019 called The Saildrone Pacific Sentinel Experiment, which positioned six saildrones along the west coast of the United States to gather atmospheric and ocean data.[26][27]

See also


  1. Yan, Ru-jian; Pang, Shuo; Sun, Han-bing; Pang, Yong-jie (2010). "Development and missions of unmanned surface vehicle". Journal of Marine Science and Application. 9 (4): 451–457. doi:10.1007/s11804-010-1033-2.
  2. National Research Council, Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences (5 August 2005). Autonomous Vehicles in Support of Naval Operations. National Academies Press. ISBN 978-0-309-18123-5. Retrieved 15 October 2019.
  3. "USV (UNMANNED SURFACE VEHICLE), APPLICATIONS AND ADVANTAGES". embention.com. Embention. 18 Sep 2015. Retrieved 15 Oct 2019.
  4. Amos, Jonathan (9 May 2019). "Autonomous boat makes oyster run". BBC News. Retrieved 2 Dec 2019.
  5. Carson, Daniel F. (2019). "An affordable and portable autonomous surface vehicle with obstacle avoidance for coastal ocean monitoring". HardwareX. 6: e00059. doi:10.1016/j.ohx.2019.e00059.
  6. "The ferry using Rolls-Royce technology that sails itself". BBC News. Finland. 3 Dec 2018. Retrieved 15 Oct 2019.
  7. Manley, Justin E. (2008). "Unmanned Surface Vehicles, 15 Years of Development" (PDF). IEEE Oceanic Engineering Society. Retrieved 14 Oct 2019.
  8. Feather, Andrew (1 Dec 2019). "MDOT: Unmanned sonar-equipped boat to make bridge inspections "safer and more efficient"". WWMT. Michigan, USA. Retrieved 2 Dec 2019.
  9. Stevens Institute of Technology student USV Archived 2010-08-11 at the Wayback Machine
  10. "Carbon Wave Glider". Retrieved 24 February 2016.
  11. "Robot Boats Survive Epic Voyage Across the Pacific — So Far". WIRED. 23 May 2012. Retrieved 24 February 2016.
  12. Autonomous Navigation and Obstacle Avoidance of Unmanned Vessels in Simulated Rough Sea States. 18 November 2011. Retrieved 24 February 2016 via YouTube.
  13. "Robotica - An experimental setup for autonomous operation of surface vessels in rough seas - Cambridge Journals Online". Retrieved 24 February 2016.
  14. This story was written Amanda D. Stein; Naval Postgraduate School Public Affairs. "NPS Acquires Two USVs, Opens Sea Web Lab for Expanded Undersea Warfare Research". Retrieved 24 February 2016.
  15. "Information Dissemination: Eureka! Wave Glider". Retrieved 24 February 2016.
  16. Andrew Orthmann (2016-11-22). "Bering Sea ASV Force Multiplier". Hydro-international.com. Retrieved 2018-05-10.
  17. "United States Navy Fact File: MINE COUNTERMEASURES UNMANNED SURFACE VEHICLE (MCM USV)". navy.mil. United States Navy. 2 Jan 2019. Retrieved 14 Oct 2019.
  18. "Unmanned cargo ships". Hellenic Shipping News. 17 March 2017. Retrieved 27 May 2018.
  19. "Drones at sea: Unmanned vehicles to expand data collection from far-flung locales - National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration". www.noaa.gov.
  20. Fisher, Adam (2014-02-18). "The Drone That Will Sail Itself Around the World". Wired. ISSN 1059-1028. Retrieved 2019-02-13.
  21. "Bloomberg - Are you a robot?". www.bloomberg.com. Retrieved 2019-02-13.
  22. "Saildrones go where humans can't — or don't want to — to study the world's oceans". The Seattle Times. 2018-07-01. Retrieved 2019-02-13.
  23. "Saildrone Hopes Its Robotic Sailboats Can Save the World by Collecting Precise Climate-Change Data". Inc.com. 2017-06-13. Retrieved 2019-02-13.
  24. "Saildrone Fleet Launches in New Zealand on Epic Journey". www.saildrone.com. Retrieved 2019-02-13.
  25. Vance, Ashlee (5 Aug 2019). "Saildrone's Journey Around Antarctica Uncovers New Climate Clues". Bloomberg Businessweek. Retrieved 15 Oct 2019.
  26. "The Saildrone Pacific Sentinel Experiment". University of Washington. Retrieved 11 November 2019.
  27. "Can Autonomous Weather-Observation Sailboats Improve Forecasts over the U.S.?". Cliff Mass Weather and Climate Blog. Retrieved 11 November 2019.
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