University looks to build industry connections at autonomous maritime facility

The University of Plymouth is looking to expand its links with global defence and security company Thales after it opened a new facility in the city.

The Maritime Autonomy Centre, at Turnchapel Wharf, aims to build on Thales’s leadership in autonomous systems and strengthen the position of UK industry in this emerging market.

It is envisaged it will change the way autonomous capability is developed over the next decade by enabling rapid exploration and exploitation of emergent and disruptive technologies.

Thales will be working closely with the Royal Navy, and is also in talks with the University’s Faculty of Science and Engineering over potential collaborations.

The new centre complements existing facilities on the University campus, and technologies being developed there could first be tested in the COAST Laboratory.

It could also generate opportunities for academics from the Autonomous Marine Systems Research Group, the Maritime Cyber Threats Research Group and those in Navigation and Maritime Science, as well as students on existing courses and a forthcoming MSc in Autonomous Systems.

Kevin Forshaw, Director of Industrial and Strategic Partnerships in the Faculty of Science and Engineering and a member of the Maritime UK Marine Autonomous Systems Group, said:

“This facility will help cement Plymouth’s position as a leading centre in this emerging and exciting sector. The University represents a large pool of leading experts who are developing sustainable and practical solutions for Marine Autonomous Systems development. This includes leading research on Cyber Security and Ocean Forecasting for their safe operation, and this centre will offer the opportunity to expand our collaborations with businesses and research communities globally.”

Thales has invested £1 million in the waterfront facility, which will specifically provide access to trials areas for the development of maritime autonomous systems.

The centre is also an integral part of a joint programme between the UK and French government to develop the next generation of autonomous mine hunting systems (maritime mine counter measures, or MMCM).

Victor Chavez, CEO of Thales UK, said:

“The unique waterfront location at Turnchapel Wharf will provide access to shallow and deep water trials areas for the development of cutting edge maritime solutions. Our ambition is to help anchor a vibrant ecosystem in Plymouth for the development of advanced autonomous systems. And we are already working with a wide range of academic and industry partners to make this a reality.”

The new centre was opened on Thursday 11 October by the Minister for Defence Procurement Stuart Andrew MP, who added:

“Our Armed Forces must remain a step ahead of our adversaries, something we can only do by collaborating with our leading British defence industry. Thales’ new Maritime Autonomy Centre is another great example of the work being done by our suppliers to ensure our military remains equipped with state-of-the-art capabilities. This centre of excellence will enable industry and academia to experiment and innovate together to help counter emerging sea-based threats and ensure we remain one of the world’s leading militaries.”