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Posted: January 17th, 2024

Best Practices for Integrating Unmanned Surface and Underwater Vehicles into Commercial Fleets

Best Practices for Integrating Unmanned Surface and Underwater Vehicles into Commercial Fleets

Unmanned surface and underwater vehicles (USVs and UUVs) are emerging technologies that have the potential to transform the maritime industry. USVs and UUVs can perform various tasks such as exploration, surveying, inspection, security, and transportation, without requiring human operators on board. These vehicles can offer advantages such as cost savings, operational efficiency, safety, and environmental benefits. However, integrating USVs and UUVs into commercial fleets also poses some challenges, such as regulatory uncertainty, technical complexity, cyber security, and ethical issues. This blog post will discuss some of the best practices for integrating USVs and UUVs into commercial fleets, based on the latest research and developments in this field.

Regulatory Framework

One of the main challenges for integrating USVs and UUVs into commercial fleets is the lack of a clear and consistent regulatory framework. Currently, there is no international convention or agreement that specifically addresses the use of USVs and UUVs in the maritime domain. The existing regulations, such as the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGS), and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), were developed before the advent of USVs and UUVs, and do not adequately cover their unique characteristics and capabilities. Therefore, there is a need for developing new regulations or adapting existing ones to accommodate USVs and UUVs in a way that ensures safety, security, liability, and environmental protection.

Some of the key issues that need to be addressed by the regulatory framework include:

– The definition and classification of USVs and UUVs, based on their size, autonomy level, function, and operating environment.
– The registration and identification of USVs and UUVs, including their nationality, ownership, operator, and communication system.
– The certification and inspection of USVs and UUVs, including their design, construction, equipment, performance, maintenance, and testing standards.
– The navigation and collision avoidance rules for USVs and UUVs, including their rights and obligations in different sea areas, their interaction with other vessels and marine traffic services, and their use of lights, signals, sound devices, and electronic aids.
– The responsibility and liability for USVs and UUVs, including their legal status as vessels or objects, their accountability for damages or losses caused by them or to them, their insurance coverage, and their salvage rights.
– The environmental impact of USVs and UUVs, including their emission levels, noise levels, waste disposal methods, fuel consumption rates, and potential effects on marine life.

Some of the initiatives that are underway to develop or update the regulatory framework for USVs and UUVs include:

– The International Maritime Organization (IMO), which is the United Nations agency responsible for the safety and security of international shipping, has established a working group on maritime autonomous surface ships (MASS) to examine how existing IMO instruments can be applied to MASS or need to be amended. The working group has developed four degrees of autonomy for MASS: degree one (ship with automated processes and decision support), degree two (remotely controlled ship with seafarers on board), degree three (remotely controlled ship without seafarers on board), and degree four (fully autonomous ship). The working group has also identified several gaps in the existing IMO instruments that need to be addressed for MASS.
– The International Organization for Standardization (ISO), which is an independent organization that develops voluntary standards for various industries and sectors,
has established a technical committee on unmanned maritime systems (TC 304) to develop standards for USVs and UUVs. The technical committee has several subcommittees that focus on different aspects of USVs and UUVs, such as terminology,
design principles,
performance requirements,
communication protocols,
and safety management systems.
– The Comité International Radio-Maritime (CIRM), which is an association of companies that provide products
and services for maritime navigation
and communication,
has developed guidelines
for software quality assurance
for MASS.
The guidelines provide recommendations
for software development,
and maintenance
for MASS,
based on best practices
and industry standards.
– The International Association of Classification Societies (IACS), which is an association of organizations that certify
and classify ships
and offshore structures,
has issued recommendations
for remotely operated ships
and autonomous ships.
The recommendations cover aspects such as structural strength,
fire safety,
machinery systems,
electrical systems,
automation systems,
and cyber security
for remotely operated ships
and autonomous ships.

Technical Complexity

Another challenge for integrating USVs
and UUVs into commercial fleets
is the technical complexity
of these vehicles
and their systems.
USVs and UUVs
require advanced technologies
such as sensors,
artificial intelligence,
machine learning,
and communication systems
to operate autonomously
or remotely
in dynamic
and uncertain
marine environments.
These technologies
need to be reliable,
and interoperable
to ensure the safety
and efficiency
of USVs and UUVs
and their missions.

Some of the best practices
for addressing the technical complexity
of USVs and UUVs

– Adopting a modular
and open architecture
for USVs and UUVs
and their systems.
This allows for flexibility,
and compatibility
of different components
and functions
of USVs and UUVs,
as well as easier integration,
and maintenance.
– Applying a system-of-systems approach
for USVs and UUVs
and their systems.
This involves considering USVs and UUVs
as part of a larger network
of interconnected systems
that include other vessels,
shore stations,
and users.
This enables a holistic view
of the performance,
and limitations
of USVs and UUVs
and their systems,
as well as their interactions
and dependencies
with other systems.
– Implementing a rigorous testing
and evaluation process
for USVs and UUVs
and their systems.
This involves conducting simulations,
and demonstrations
in various scenarios,
and scales
to verify and validate the functionality,
and interoperability of USVs and UUVs and their systems, as well as to identify and mitigate potential risks, failures, and errors.
– Developing a comprehensive cyber security strategy for USVs and UUVs and their systems. This involves identifying and assessing the cyber threats, vulnerabilities, and impacts of USVs and UUVs and their systems, as well as implementing measures to protect, detect, respond, and recover from cyber attacks. These measures include encryption, authentication, firewall, antivirus, backup, redundancy, monitoring, auditing, and incident response.

Cyber Security

A related challenge for integrating USVs and UUVs into commercial fleets is cyber security. USVs and UUVs rely on communication systems to receive commands, transmit data, and coordinate with other vehicles and systems. These communication systems can be vulnerable to cyber attacks that can compromise the confidentiality, integrity, or availability of the information or the operation of the vehicles. Cyber attacks can cause various consequences such as loss of control, malfunction, damage, theft, sabotage, or espionage of USVs and UUVs and their systems.

Some of the best practices for enhancing the cyber security of USVs and UUVs and their systems include:

– Following the guidelines developed by CIRM for software quality assurance for MASS, as mentioned above.
– Applying the standards developed by ISO for information security management systems (ISO 27000 series) and cyber security engineering (ISO 21823 series) to USVs and UUVs and their systems. These standards provide frameworks and principles for establishing, implementing, maintaining, and improving the information security and cyber security of organizations and systems.
– Adopting the recommendations issued by IACS for cyber resilience of ships (IACS UR E22) and remote inspection techniques (IACS UR Z17) to USVs and UUVs. These recommendations provide guidance on how to assess and manage the cyber risks of ships’ systems, as well as how to conduct remote inspections using technologies such as drones or robots.
– Participating in the Maritime Cybersecurity Center (MCC), which is an initiative launched by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in collaboration with various stakeholders from the maritime industry. The MCC aims to create a platform for information sharing, collaboration, awareness raising, capacity building, and innovation on maritime cyber security issues.

Ethical Issues

A final challenge for integrating USVs and UUVs into commercial fleets is ethical issues. USVs and UUVs raise various ethical questions such as:

– Who is responsible or accountable for the actions or outcomes of USVs and UUVs?
– How can human oversight or intervention be ensured or enabled for USVs and UUVs?
– How can human dignity or rights be respected or protected by or from USVs and UUVs?
– How can social or environmental values be embedded or reflected in USVs and UUVs?

Some of the best practices for addressing the ethical issues of USVs and UUVs include:

– Developing a code of ethics or conduct for USVs and UUVs that defines the principles, values, norms, rules, responsibilities, rights, duties, expectations, standards, or guidelines for designing, developing, deploying, operating, or using USVs and UUVs in a way that is ethical, responsible, sustainable, transparent, accountable, trustworthy, fair, safe, secure, inclusive, beneficial, or human-centric.
– Establishing


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