Marine robots take orders from afar at ReefWorks

23 May 2022

AIMS’ ReefWorks tropical marine test range near Townsville hosted the first tropics-based component of an innovative naval exercise featuring civilian autonomous technology controlled 1800km away in New South Wales.

Autonomous Warrior is the Royal Australian Navy (RAN)'s flagship program for identifying, demonstrating and experimenting with potential robotics, autonomous systems and artificial intelligence (RAS-AI) capabilities. The exercise is an opportunity for the RAN, industry and research organisations to come together to observe, demonstrate, trial and test a variety of RAS-AI capabilities in a controlled environment.

At the ReefWorks event, autonomous surface vessels designed by Australian Droid and Robot (ADR) were livestreamed to, and controlled from, the Navy’s Autonomous Warrior command centre in Jervis Bay using BITSCore remote tasking technology.

Inside the control room with people situated at many desks with many computers
The ReefWorks AW2022 control room, managing communications between Jervis Bay and Cape Cleveland. Photo by Danielle Koopman.

The missions included using sonar to detect objects on the ocean floor and patrolling an area to detect and identify unknown vessels and escort them to shore.

It was the first time the Australian Maritime Safety Authority approved a swarm permit for autonomous vessels. A swarm is a collection of vessels working cohesively, directed by an operator. It has advantages over single units by increasing the speed and size of data acquisition while reducing mission time.

Other organisations supporting the event included: Warfare Innovation Navy, MacroData, Black Dog Media, Omnititan Productions, NQAV  and the Trusted Autonomous Systems Defence Cooperative Research Centre.

Team photo infront of the ReefWorks marine area
The Autonomous Warrior 2022 ReefWorks event team with ‘Lifesaver’, one of the participating robots designed by Australian Droid and Robot. Photo by Black Dog Media

ReefWorks is a new AIMS facility that offers a national capability to safely test marine technologies, uncrewed systems and new sensors. It is the only facility of its kind in the world in tropical waters which is a challenging operating environment for marine technology.

ReefWorks is positioned to catalyse Australia’s innovation in RAS-AI, including AIMS’ capabilities to monitor and respond to the challenges facing our marine ecosystems. It is an initiative supported by the Queensland Government.

Following the exercise, AIMS hosted an event for north Queensland’s marine technology leaders to see the technology in action and speak with the innovators who delivered the Autonomous Warrior event.

Feature image by AIMS | Jo Hurford. Grey Ghost using sonar to detect objects on the sea floor on the ReefWorks test range.