Unmanned/Autonomous Vehicles

MAPC—20 Years of Unmanned Surface Vessel Work

Maritime Applied Physics Corporation (MAPC) has a 32-year history of designing and building advanced technology systems for both commercial and government sponsors. What began as an engineering services company in the 1980s has evolved into a research, engineering, and manufacturing company that conceives and builds technology-rich systems. 

MAPC has specific experience with the design of electronic systems for advanced vehicles including ground robots, hydrofoils, passenger vessel motion reduction systems, rudder and autopilot systems, watercraft launch and recovery systems, shipboard machinery systems, and unmanned aircraft launch and recovery systems. Following are some samples of MAPC’s unmanned systems.

A 20-Year History with Keel-up Unmanned Surface Vessel Design and Build Programs 

MAPC developed its first unmanned marine vessel in 1996 under DARPA funding.  The unmanned control was applied to one of the U.S. Naval Academy’s 44-foot sailing vessels.  Under this effort, MAPC developed software in a GIS environment to issue heading commands to the sailing vessel as a function of wind measurements, the actions of a competing vessel, and the position of the vessel relative to an upwind mark. While the actuation of the helm and lines was done by a manned crew, the commands that controlled these actions were provided by a laptop computer. The result startled experienced sailors as the computer was able to more rapidly sense wind shifts and calculate lay lines. In this early experiment, the computerized vessel routinely beat the competing boat. A number of unmanned ground vehicle projects followed before MAPC returned to the marine environment in 2001. 

Between 2001 and 2005, MAPC built two USSVs under an ONR program. The high-tow-force vessel was designed by Navy partners while the hydrofoil vessel was designed by MAPC. The 3-year program produced two boats, command and control systems, launch and recovery elements, at-sea testing, and mission system integration work. This program featured extensive mechanical engineering design, naval architecture, power management, and software development work for unmanned operation, C4ISR, mission system integration, and vehicle flight control. Both boats have been outfitted by the Navy for autonomous operation and served as test platforms for various Navy projects.   

Common Unmanned Surface Vessel (CUSV)

Based on the lessons learned in the USSV program, MAPC designed the Common Unmanned Surface Vessel (CUSV). Two of these vessels were subsequently built for a commercial sponsor between 2007 and 2012.  Rights to the CUSV design were then sold and a variant of this vessel was later selected as the Navy’s Unmanned Influence Sweep System (UISS) craft. 

GARC

In MAPC’s manned configuration, the Greenough Advanced Rescue Craft (GARC) is a high-performance rescue vehicle.  It can be deployed from C-130 and C-17 aircraft and is in use by USAF units worldwide.  The vessel is used to rescue downed USAF air crews and passengers on commercial airliners that ditch in the open ocean.  The Para Rescue personnel that jump with these vehicles (PJs) are equipped to provide medical care, food, water, and shelter to survivors for up to 3 days while waiting for ships to arrive on scene. A total of 32 craft have been built and are in service.  The GARC has been mission-tested in a typhoon that produced 30-foot seas. The GARCs proved their capability by rescuing Japanese Coast Guard teams on personal watercraft and remained operational in Sea-State 7 for 3 days (until the mission was complete).  

Unmanned GARC Vessels:

MAPC has developed unmanned variants of the GARC rescue craft.  These vessels have applications in the U.S. Navy and Special Warfare communities as well as in various commercial offshore applications. MAPC is currently under contract to employ unmanned GARCs in a cable survey operations for off-shore wind and other federal government sponsors.  

5.9 M USV

MAPC has designed a 5.9 meter aluminum USV to accommodate a range of mission payloads. With a length overall of 5.9 m and beam of 2.75 m, the USV is capable of packing into a 20′ TEU shipping container for flexible mobilization. This USV has a uniquely high payload capacity for its size and is capable of mission payloads up to 3,650 lbs. and significant fuel capacities of up to 2,000 lbs. to allow for extended low-speed endurance. A rugged chambered Zodiac MilPro inflatable D-Collar is installed to provide additional stability and fendering capability, while being deflateable to meet shipping container width restrictions. It features twin Volvo D3-140 engines and DPS drives, with a hydraulic power take-off system to power a bow thruster and mission components. In the twin engine configuration, it is capable of DP1 maneuvering and speeds in excess of 20 knots. Single engine configurations are also available.

Native sensors include 360-degree cameras and a commercial radar for situational awareness and obstacle avoidance, with options to include a stabilized EO/IR camera or a LIDAR for enhanced world perception. High bandwidth communications are achieved with VHF Line of Sight Radios with low bandwidth long distance control achieved through Satellite communications.

Multiple deck configurations are available, including a short mission bay length with a below-deck hydraulic winch capable of handling over 2,000 m of tether. A long mission bay configuration is available without the integrated winch. Mission payloads can also be installed on the forward deck for additional height of eye.

USV Command and Control Interface

MAPC has developed an intuitive USV command and control user interface that incorporates mission planning and real-time health and status monitoring functions. The interface may be used to plan waypoints and mission objectives within an open-source GIS-based software engine that automatically loads NOAA electronics charts.  Real-time USV data from onboard sensors may be overlaid on the chart such as position, target tracks, raw sensor, and payload data.  The software was developed on an open architecture standard so that it can be modified or extended for unique applications and client requirements and so that it can be used on MAPC and non-MAPC USVs alike. The software is currently being used to operate a MAPC GARC USV in a commercial hydrographic survey application.