A former National Hydrographer of the UK addressed marine engineers at the recent IMarEST Gordon Hodge Memorial lecture.
‘Radical new technologies are approaching the maritime industry on a steady bearing and it is time to respond.' This was the key message former National Hydrographer of the UK, Rear Admiral Nick Lambert expounded. Amongst other things he spotlighted progress in the development of autonomous surface craft as follows:
Glimpsing the future
Today remote controlled drones are routinely deployed in Afghanistan and theatres of war elsewhere in the Middle East. Autonomous drones - normally taking the form of lightweight quadcopters - are becoming ever more sophisticated and intelligent, escaping the confines of lab environments and increasingly capable of exploring the real-world.
Earlier this month BAe demonstrated a remotely controlled commercial equivalent plane in controlled airspace: arguably, a natural progression from the fly-by-wire control systems that are de rigeur in commercial aviation. Google has been experimenting and is making rapid progress with driverless cars.
These advances are gradually seeping into maritime space. And at IMDEX Asia earlier this year the Singaporean Navy gave delegates a glimpse of its unmanned surface craft, which is already patrolling waters near the island city state.
So unmanned surface craft are out there patrolling a seaspace. What are the implications? How are they controlled, what is the training and experience for the operators and are such operations effectively administered by the COLREGS? It may be the case that COLREGS are fine for the time being but should we begin the debate about updating them in light of emerging technology?
Drawing on the lessons of ECDIS implementation he suggests that learned bodies, such as IMarEST, are well-positioned to help steer the evolution of new technologies and ensur that the user is in charge of the machine and not vice-versa.