Sonardyne trials obstacle avoidance tech on Royal Navy’s XLUUV

UK-based engineering firm Sonardyne and compatriot tech company Wavefront have successfully demonstrated their underwater obstacle avoidance technology onboard an extra-large uncrewed underwater vehicle (XLUUV).

As informed, Vigilant, developed by Wavefront and manufactured and commercialized by Sonardyne, is a navigation and obstacle avoidance sonar for ships, uncrewed surface vessels (USVs) and underwater vehicles. It provides crews with automated long-range detection of objects in the water column, showing them where it is safe to navigate and alerting them to potential underwater dangers that could result in a collision or grounding.

The demonstration of the Vigilant sonar was part of the first phase of the UK’s Defence and Security Accelerator’s (DASA) “Uncrewed Underwater Vehicle Testbed – Opportunity to Integrate’” competition, run jointly with the Royal Navy and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl).

The DASA competition is focused on testing and validating commercial-off-the-shelf technologies (COTS) sensors and payloads, like Vigilant, to help the Royal Navy understand the future roles for XLUUVS for surveillance, reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare.

For the trial, the system’s sonar projector and receiver array were mounted in the bow of the 9 meter-long S201 XLUUV built and operated by Plymouth-based MSubs Ltd.

As part of the demonstration, the XLUUV was programmed to travel beyond the breakwater outside Plymouth sound. Vigilant was used to create a bathymetric map that was used by the XLUUV to navigate. The data was also overlaid over existing charts of the area, demonstrating the higher resolution provided by Vigilant.

Vigilant system has two operating modes. In 3D mode, Vigilant produces accurate 3D bathymetry and colour-coded depth imagery out to 600 meter and to depths down to 100 meter.

In sonar mode, the system processes the intensity of the acoustic data to extract long-range positional data. The sonar returns are used to generate alerts highlighting the presence of a navigationally relevant obstacle.

“Seaborne collision avoidance is a vital consideration for autonomous and uncrewed naval platforms. Vigilant can be integrated into these ocean robots to provide essential information to autopilots and command and control systems, to aid safe navigation and manoeuvres around hazardous obstacles,” Ioseba Tena, Head of Defence at Sonardyne, said.

In the past, Sonardyne was contracted by the US Navy to provide underwater tracking systems.

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Photo: Sonardyne