Sailors take control of crewless autonomous boat in latest trials

Isa Khan

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For the first time the Royal Navy has driven a fast stealth boat in the Solent, controlling it remotely from land.​

Commanded by a laptop, tablet and two sailors in a tent overlooking the water at Browndown Beach in Gosport, the MADFOX autonomous boat was used to test the theory –and practice – of operating a boat from ashore, using it to monitor Solent shipping from afar. Up to now, MADFOX (MAritime Demonstrator For Operational eXperimentation) has been controlled from on board. But in a harbinger of future missions, sailors have now operated the vessel from range, taking on new skills and challenges. The sailors were taught how to interpret the live feed from the vessel’s sensors and cameras – including a high-resolution zoom which can identify people on ships at a distance. As a safety measure personnel were aboard MADFOX, but the boat’s movements, speed and heading were controlled by personnel ashore.

The command node on land afforded an over-watch of the experimentation area. The simple set-up is itself a link to the future, where the node will be integrated into ships like the next-generation Type 26 and Type 31 frigates. It is hoped the vessel, and other systems like it, could deploy with Royal Navy ships in future operations, carrying out tasks from force protection to surveillance. Commander Antony Crabb, in charge of NavyX – the specialist team charged with harnessing the latest tech for use by the Fleet – said: “It might seem like remote-controlled boats on a park lake, however, this is a significant milestone as navy personnel gain confidence in operating at speed and dislocated from the vessel.

“It’s not what we are used to after years standing watch on board ships of the current Fleet. Lessons from these recent serials will be used to build ever more complex serials ahead of integration into Operational Experimentation activity where the project will add tactical value, helping to shape the blended Fleet of tomorrow.”
The investment in MADFOX comes as the Royal Navy and Royal Marines look to expand their use of crewless and autonomous equipment.

This is a significant milestone as navy personnel gain confidence in operating at speed and dislocated from the vessel.

Commander Antony Crabb, in charge of NavyX​


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