The market for uncrewed surface vehicles (USVs) is booming. A recent report published by Allied Market Research suggests that the global market for USVs in 2022 generated $0.92 billion and is anticipated to generate $2.7 billion by 2032—that is a staggering CAGR of 11.5% over the next decade.
There are several convergent factors driving this growth, but most demand can be attributed to the steady trial and adoption of USVs for 1. marine survey (ocean mapping, environmental monitoring, subsea inspection, etc.) and 2. defense and security operations (at-sea surveillance, tactical ops, disaster response, etc.).
A RECIPE FOR SUCCESS
In its crudest sense, a USV is a “recipe” of highly integrated technologies—a system of systems. Therefore, the capacity of uncrewed vehicles is entirely contingent on a matrix of tech-inspired supply chains. That means hardware—hull materials and dynamics, battery and propulsion systems, sensors, cameras, and collision avoidance systems, etc.—and software—information and communication technologies designed to enhance the remote control and telemetry of remotely operable assets.
Today, clients can partner with specialist USV manufacturers, like SeaRobotics, to pick and choose their exacting sensor suite and payload options. This element of customization ensures that the resulting vehicle specifications are a true fit for purpose—the balance of “ingredients” is optimized, if you will. It is no surprise, then, that USV models currently available in the international market come in a range of shapes and sizes, with form and factor tweaked for specific mission requirements.
Across the most recent projects at SeaRobotics, both for commercial and defense clients, we see two prevalent trends shaping the future of the USV market. First is the application of swarm formation deployments—that is, the synchronized use of multiple USVs to extend coverage with great efficiency.
This has led us to commercialize a uniquely equipped USV swarm unit, with the SR-Surveyor M1.8, our most compact and fully integrated person-portable model, as its chief protagonist. Equipped with a multibeam sonar and LiDAR as standard, the SR-Surveyor M1.8’s shallow draft makes it ideal for accessing hazardous and hard-to-access waters to collect geophysical data to characterize underlying terrain or pinpoint submerged threats, such as underwater mines. Either way, the ability to operate multiple units remotely (we have successfully run exercises with USVs and operators in different hemispheres) keeps people out of harm’s way.
The other likely development we see is the sustained interest and investment in longer-range, high-endurance USVs engineered for operation in remote offshore environments. The development of our SR-Endurance 8.0 is a direct response to this demand. The 8-meter, self-righting hybrid diesel-electric propulsion USV is equipped with collision avoidance technology, GPS navigation, and customizable levels of autonomy—with an operator in the loop and out.
Capable of running 14-day continued missions from a shore-based command, in four-meter-high swells and Beaufort Wind Scale 7 conditions, USVs of this blueprint offer greater versatility due to their capacity to support operations in deeper waters but also access relative shallows. They are also large enough to carry and deploy ancillary assets—smaller USVs, ROVs, AUVs, and other towed bodies—as well as the remotely operable handling systems needed to safely launch and recover them.
The value of uncrewed vehicles in the ocean space is undisputed. Autonomous platforms allow us to work safely, reliably, and with a fraction of the carbon footprint associated with conventional topside operations. Now is the time to focus on their cross-sector integration to bring about a cooperative ecosystem of cooperative remote sensing technologies.
This feature appeared in ON&T Magazine’s 2023 December special edition: The Future of Ocean Technology, Vol. 4, to read more access the magazine here.