back to article Rise of the Machines at Sea: The British firm building robot boats

As the pace of automation gathers speed – from the Internet of Things to factory floors – there's a lot going on quietly but efficiently in robot boats, in particular, with Portchester-based ASV Global. Founded in 1998 "as an idea", ASV – which stands for Autonomous Surface Vehicles – took off in 2007 after winning a research …

  1. JeffyPoooh
    Pint

    Less likely to crash into a truck...

    Advantage ocean.

  2. Matthew Smith

    Piracy?

    My understanding that if there is an unmanned vessel in international waters, whoever lands on it can claim it as their own from then on. So how do you assert the ownership of an unmanned robo-boat?

    1. frank ly

      Re: Piracy?

      "So how do you assert ...?"

      A big 'F**k Off' sign and lots of booby traps.

    2. Efros

      Re: Piracy?

      Quite easy, ensure that the robo-boat has one crew, a fully operational ED 209!

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Piracy?

      Robot boat, so robot captain. With robot parrot if necessary.

    4. Cameron Colley

      Re: Piracy?

      Robot goalkeeper?

    5. Matt Bryant Silver badge
      Pirate

      Re: Matthew Smith Re: Piracy?

      "....if there is an unmanned vessel in international waters, whoever lands on it can claim it as their own....." The legal definition is not unmanned, it is "abandoned" - if a device is under remote control it has not been abandoned legally.

  3. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    IT Angle

    Interssting software development challenges and a nice part of the UK to work in.

    Odds on bet they get bought by BAE and all prices then quadruple?

    It's been a bad week and I'm not feeling optimistic.

    1. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: Interssting software development challenges and a nice part of the UK to work in.

      You forgot the bit about all the products suddenly stop functioning.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Interssting software development challenges and a nice part of the UK to work in.

      http://asvglobal.com/about-us/careers/

  4. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    Coat

    "do things in a very responsible way"

    So, not using Microsoft software then, are they ?

    1. hplasm
      Coat

      Re: "do things in a very responsible way"

      But- it is a Surface Craft...

  5. BebopWeBop

    Sailors out of work

    Probably not, more like filling in the many gaps in recruitment and capability I suspect.

  6. Cuddles Silver badge

    Gain from robots?

    "“What they'd normally do is use a large 100-metre ship to do that which costs anything up to $150,000 dollars a day, doing a very low-value task,” said Cowles. “Essential, but low-value. If you can do two things simultaneously, tracing those transponders and also positioning them at the same time, you can save a lot of money.”

    The gain here doesn't seem to be anything to do with having an autonomous boat, and simply down to having a small boat working at the same time as the big one. You could achieve exactly the same benefits by just having a normal boat with a person in it. The robo-boat may not need a salary, but it costs more for R&D, maintenance, and so on. There are no doubt plenty of areas where autonomous or semi-autonomous boats are great, but this really doesn't seem to be a good example of one.

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Gain from robots?

      The salaries are pretty high, plus you've have to provide somewhere for the crew to eat, sleep etc. Plus, depending on where you are in the world, you have to worry more about the safety of the crew, whether that's from weather or pirates or what have you.

    2. richarddaltry

      Re: Gain from robots?

      This depends where the ship is. The offshore industries avoid putting small boats with crew in the water due to major safety risks for that crew, particualrly during launch and recovery.

  7. Alan Bourke

    "ASV is working steadily towards true artificial intelligence (AI) on its boats"

    This again. The bandying about of the term 'AI' like it's either here or due next year is rife on tech sites now. Pattern recognition and pathfinding is not AI for fuck's sake.

    Anyway. These look like they would be very handy for drug smuggling assuming they're small enough to avoid radar detection.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: "ASV is working steadily towards true artificial intelligence (AI) on its boats"

      It could be a limited AI, which is not the same as Strong AI, General AI or Artificial Sentience or Consciousness.

      Intelligence is generally described as the ability to perceive information, and retain it as knowledge to be applied towards adaptive behaviours within an environment or context. Whilst there are other definitions of intelligence, there is no problem in using 'AI' to describe some existing problem solving machines.

      >Pattern recognition and pathfinding is not AI for fuck's sake.

      Not individually, but how the boat reacts to these inputs (along with weather forecasts, goals, local sensors etc) could be. The article is a bit scant on details, but it seems ASV's work parallels that of autonomous cars, which are classed as AI.

    2. Brian Miller

      Re: "ASV is working steadily towards true artificial intelligence (AI) on its boats"

      I'm not sure that anything boat-sized can avoid radar detection when they're actively looking for you. In WW-II, the U-Boat periscopes could be detected with radar (RAF Mk II Airborne Interception radar, and later the H2S radar). Radar has only gotten better since then.

      The only advantage would be that being an unmanned vessel, the smugglers would not be at risk at high sea. They would only be picked up when the vessel got to its destination, tracked by the Coast Guard and the Navy.

    3. PJD

      Re: "ASV is working steadily towards true artificial intelligence (AI) on its boats"

      If drug smugglers aren't already using these I'll be shocked: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Underwater_glider

  8. Ralph the Wonder Llama
    Coat

    Roboats?

    No? Oh, ok...

    1. Efros

      Re: Roboats?

      We need a groan button or icon, the absence of which forces me to upvote this.

      1. FuzzyTheBear
        Pint

        Re: Roboats?

        Also coming in handy would be the " kick in the pants " icon

        A few more i can think of , but they're unprintable in a classy ,family friendly ,publication like the Reg ..

        Yeah .. more than time to call it quits for the week ..

        1. Inventor of the Marmite Laser Silver badge

          Re: Roboats?

          And for security:

          Rowlocks

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Roboats?

            I think we need a steering committee to sort out these puns and to confirm they are anchored in reality before publication otherwise we may end up in the doldrums.

  9. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge
    Trollface

    only ten days behind the daily mail :)

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3774272/Forget-self-driving-try-self-SAILING-Robotic-boat-scour-oceans-data-without-need-sailors.html

    1. IsJustabloke
      Trollface

      "only ten days behind the daily mail :)"

      Before boasting you should be aware that common belief is that only sickos/perverts and deviants (collectively known as "politicians") admit to reading the Daily mail.

      Just saying....

  10. Steve Channell
    Black Helicopters

    Submarine tracker

    Ballistic missile and hunter killer submarines work on the premise that it is difficult to find a boat in the vastness of the oceans, but that is all about to change with this technology because submarine ports aren’t vast.

    Once you’ve found a sub, it is cheaper to drop a small roboat on the surface to track it where ever it moves. Doesn’t need any weapons because you rarely need to actually sink subs and that bit is easy when you know where they are. When the price drops, you can just drop a ring of roboats around the ports to pick up subs when they leave port.

    Expect to see stories about lots of ocean mapping in the south China Sea

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Submarine tracker

      http://www.theregister.co.uk/2015/11/12/us_military_drone_submarine_hunter/

      DARPA have gone with one 140 ton boat, instead of a herd of smaller ones. I don't know enough to know why... maybe one big powerful sonar system is better than several smaller ones. Maybe it just has a greater range (drag is proportional to cross section, a square power, whereas fuel capacity is proportional to volume, a cube power). Maybe they thought they'd build and test one prototype before making a few more.

      My assumption would be that a team of several sensor platforms would offer greater performance than the sum of its elements, since having distance between the sensors allows for triangulation of signals. But hey, I'm not a weapon designer, dolphin or acoustic engineer. :)

    2. Kubla Cant Silver badge

      Re: Submarine tracker

      Once you’ve found a sub, it is cheaper to drop a small roboat on the surface to track it where ever it moves.

      I should have thought it would be within the capability of a competent submarine commander to ensure that the roboat suffers some kind of accident.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Submarine tracker

        If your roboats are small and use passive sonar, the submarine captain may have trouble distinguishing from harmless flotsam. Also, the act of taking out a small vessel is likely to draw the very attention he wishes to avoid.

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Submarine tracker

        "I should have thought it would be within the capability of a competent submarine commander to ensure that the roboat suffers some kind of accident."

        Just give me one ping. But turn the volume up to eleven!

    3. hplasm
      Pint

      Re: Submarine tracker

      "...drop a small roboat..."

      Well done Efros- Roboat is now a thing!

      Have a beer!

    4. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Boffin

      Re: Submarine tracker

      "Once you’ve found a sub, it is cheaper to drop a small roboat on the surface to track it where ever it moves. Doesn’t need any weapons because you rarely need to actually sink subs and that bit is easy when you know where they are. When the price drops, you can just drop a ring of roboats around the ports to pick up subs when they leave port."

      You may have noticed in the story on the £800m MoD business incubator that BAE and Birmingham U have developed a "Quantum Gravitmeter."

      Such devices (pioneered by the late Dr Robert L. Forward at Hughes in the late 60's) can detect the gravity anomaly of a hand in front of them based on the difference between gravity in one direction and another.

      So I'd guess the mass of a large ICBM submarine even at say a kilometre would still be quite detectable.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Submarine tracker

        >So I'd guess the mass of a large ICBM submarine even at say a kilometre would still be quite detectable.

        It would if the submarine hadn't displaced a volume of water of equal mass to itself. Gravimeters are used to detect underground hollows or other areas of low density.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Submarine tracker

          "Gravimeters are used to detect underground hollows or other areas of low density."

          Like the hollow, air-filled cavity inside the submarine designed to help the crew breath? An interesting thought.

      2. RantyDave

        Re: Submarine tracker

        "So I'd guess the mass of a large ICBM submarine even at say a kilometre would still be quite detectable."

        Au contraire, Rodney. The submarine, by definition, weighs exactly the same as an equivalent volume of water.

  11. Tom Paine
    Joke

    Round and round the Isle of Wight?

    Are you SURE it was unmanned? Perhaps Cap'n Rum was less visible than usual, as a result of having his legs sliced clean off by a falling sail, and swept into the sea before his very eyes...

    http://allblackadderscripts.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/blackadder-ii-episde-3-potato.html

    1. Woza

      Re: Round and round the Isle of Wight?

      You have a woman's robot's legs, my lord!

  12. a_mu

    A real sailing boat

    Have you seen my god daughters sail boat

    As she is disabled, she controls it via a sip / puff.

    and the computers do the rest.

    http://www.missisle.com/

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A real sailing boat

      that is awesome :) http://www.missisle.com/

  13. Tom 7 Silver badge

    Autonomous boats???????????????????????????????????????????????????

    As someone who has pissed about building boats and fucking about with boats the idea of making them autonomous is, frankly, abhorrent. A boat needs human intervention to give them meaning and bring them to life.

    You'll be trying to put them in the water next!

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Terminator

    Thanks a lot, ASV Global!

    So much for the isolated island, where the last vestiges of mankind still live free...

    1. Allan George Dyer Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Thanks a lot, ASV Global!

      Well, there are theories that the inhabitants of the Isle of Wight are a different species, but...

  15. Martin an gof Silver badge
    Happy

    Flightradar24

    ...are using an autonomous robot boat to track aircraft where land-based receivers can't.

    See here for more info

    M.

  16. Jonski
    Pirate

    ColRegs?

    I'm concerned about Collision Regulations- Power gives way to Sail gives way to Fishing etc., so I assume roboboats would give way to everything.

    But what day shape should they display? Some vessels have balls, some have diamonds up on display.

    I suggest roboboats should have balls and something that looks like a cock up. Because there will be.

    1. Kernel

      Re: ColRegs?

      "m concerned about Collision Regulations- Power gives way to Sail gives way to Fishing etc., so I assume roboboats would give way to everything."

      It's not quite that simple - there are various exceptions under the general heading of "vessel restricted in her ability to manoeuvre", and "In construing and complying with these rules due regard shall be had to all dangers of navigation and collision and to any special circumstances, including the limitations of the vessels involved, which may make a departure from these rules necessary to avoid immediate danger'.

      In other words, if you are silly enough to sail your dinghy across the bows of a container ship you will probably a) get squashed, and b), be in legal trouble.

  17. Stoneshop Silver badge
    Pirate

    "Robot" lifebuoy

    A few days ago there was a news article (in Dutch) on a lifesaving device to be used from a beach. They refer to it as a robot, but from the article it appears to be more like a remote controlled floatation device with some kind of propulsion system, able to reach 35km/h.

    One might hope it has some proximity sensors too, and not rely solely on the operator being able to avoid ramming Emily squarely into the already distressed swimmer.

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