Thursday, June 13, 2024

The Triad of Autonomy : A Comprehensive Exploration of UAV, UGV/ USV and UUVs

By Cdr Rahul Verma (r)

Cdr Rahul Verma
Former TDAC, Indian Navy

In the realm of concepts that govern our understanding of complex systems, autonomy emerges as a triad, three interwoven principles that shape the dynamics of self-governance, decision-making, and independence. This intricate web of autonomy bears a resemblance to the revered Triad of Hindu Gods, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, each representing distinct cosmic forces in the cycle of creation, preservation, and destruction. Similarly, the “Triad of Autonomy” unfolds the narrative within the systems, technology and human endeavours compromising Autonomy of Flight, Autonomy of Navigation and Autonomy of Engagement.

The “Triad of Autonomy” within unmanned systems orchestra’s is a harmonious progression in technology, where self-governance, decision-making and (machine)learning weave together in an intricate tapestry, defining the future landscape of autonomous exploration and innovation.

In recent times, unmanned vehicles have garnered increased prominence, finding a myriad of applications across various sectors such as industry, military operations, and research, spanning the realms of air, ground, and marine domains. Particularly noteworthy are the challenges encountered by unmanned marine vehicles in expanding the scope of autonomy, which encompass issues like automatic obstacle avoidance and adherence to navigational principles in the presence of other maritime traffic. An autonomous vehicle, colloquially termed a driverless vehicle, possesses the capacity to operate independently, executing essential functions without human intervention, owing to its adept sensing of the surrounding environment. This autonomy is facilitated by a fully automated navigation system, allowing the vehicle to responsively navigate external conditions that would traditionally require human oversight.

Autonomy, as a paradigm, transcends disciplinary boundaries and resonates on a global scale in both its development and application. The evolution of autonomous systems is intricately woven with a tapestry of disciplines, including communications, artificial intelligence, sensor technologies, virtual and enhanced reality, big data, security protocols, and numerous other technological facets.

A noteworthy trend is the direct transition of autonomous devices from their creators to the marketplace, illustrating the rapid pace at which autonomy is making its presence felt. The imminent advent of autonomy carries with it the potential for substantial disruption. Its integration into various sectors and facets of daily life necessitates a thoughtful and deliberate approach. The pace at which autonomy is advancing requires careful consideration to prevent it from advancing beyond our capacity for control and comprehension. Hence, a measured and intentional approach is imperative to harness the benefits of autonomy while mitigating any unintended consequences that may arise in its wake.

Autonomous technology holds the potential to confer several advantages over conventional human-driven. One noteworthy advantage pertains to enhanced safety, as the prevalence of accidents, a leading cause of fatalities annually, could decrease. Automated vehicles, governed by meticulously crafted software, are poised to exhibit a lower error rate compared to their human counterparts, thereby contributing to a reduction in casualties.

In the rapidly evolving landscape of autonomous systems, my article embarks on a thorough investigation into the realms of unmanned aerial, ground, and underwater vehicles. The integration of artificial intelligence, sophisticated sensors, and advanced algorithms has ushered in a new era where vehicles can navigate and operate independently across diverse environments. From the skies, where drones redefine aerial capabilities, to the intricate depths of the ocean, where autonomous underwater vehicles navigate blind, this exploration delves into the transformative potential of autonomy. The triad of UAVs, UGVs/USVs, and UUVs not only promises to reshape industries but also presents novel solutions to age-old challenges, marking a pivotal moment in the trajectory of autonomous technology.

At Sea

The ocean, covering more than two-thirds of the planet, poses challenges for exploration due to its vastness and complexity. Historically, exploration relied on ships, but this method is expensive and risky. We can emphasize the ocean’s mysterious nature, with unexplored areas and poorly understood ecosystems. Robots are revolutionizing marine exploration, operating above, on, and below the surface, reducing costs, time, and risks. Applications range from inspecting and repairing oil equipment to studying phytoplankton’s role in global ecosystems.

The ocean’s potential for resources, such as protein through aquaculture to provide the energy in all forms, requires a thorough understanding, achievable through robotic exploration. Autonomous robots offer safer alternatives to human presence in hazardous environments, enabling faster searches and exploration, especially in poorly charted areas like the Arctic. Surface vehicles in marine robotics are witnessing rapid innovation, from energy scavenging to autonomous cargo vessels. Reliability and continuous learning from operational experiences are crucial aspects in designing marine robots. As we enter a “new ocean century,” robotics will play a pivotal role in harnessing the ocean’s potential for food, energy, and infrastructure maintenance, marking a gradual shift from terrestrial to marine environments. Yet, wherever resources abound, history attests to the occurrence of violent contests to claim and control these valuable assets.

Below Water Line

Navigating underwater poses unique challenges compared to land or surface navigation due to limited modalities such as roads, bridges, and the absence of natural light. Unlike terrestrial vehicles that can rely on visual cues and maps, underwater vehicles, including submarines and Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUVs), encounter significant constraints in sensing their surroundings. The absence of windows in most submarines and UUVs necessitates a heavy reliance on sensors for navigation, making them blind navigators in the depths.

While surface transportation benefits from modalities like roads and GPS, underwater navigation requires a different approach. Submarines and UUVs lack the luxury of windows and the ability to use traditional navigation methods. Instead, they employ sensors to guide their movements to and from target areas. Various platform engines like the Tardid’s Brainbox could cover these deficiencies.

The success of Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUVs) hinges on advancing navigation capabilities. Emerging navigation technologies play a crucial role in enhancing the strategic navigation systems of submarines and UUVs in a cost-effective manner. A “profusion of emerging navigation technologies” opens avenues for more affordable advancements in submarine navigation systems.

Among these emerging technologies, the Geospatial Revolution stands out, offering innovative solutions for underwater navigation. This revolution, as defined, involves overlaying maps and utilizing Geographic Information System (GIS) technology. GIS, traditionally employed for land-based information integration, visualization, and analysis, is finding application in oceanic contexts. The integration of GIS technology along with depth-based navigation and accurate drift resistant INS/IMU will allow for effective navigation solutions beneath the waves. The underwater realm has become the final frontier of exploration, a domain that has been ventured into less than outer space. Despite its vastness and potential for discovery, the depths of the ocean remain unexplored. A few countries are really creating not only sea denial techniques with them but also creating autonomous intelligence gathering lurking globally.

In Air

The advent of autonomous drones marks a significant paradigm shift in our perception of aerial capabilities, ushering in an era where human pilots are no longer the sole navigators of the skies. Fuelled by advancements in artificial intelligence, computer vision, and robotics, drones have evolved beyond conventional remote-controlled gadgets, transforming into intelligent, self-governing aerial companions. Autonomous drones, categorized as innovative unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are equipped with advanced technologies that empower them to operate independently, reducing the need for constant human intervention. These drones highlight the ability to perform tasks and navigate diverse environments autonomously, relying on a sophisticated combination of sensors, artificial intelligence (AI), and intricate algorithms.

The capabilities of autonomous drones vary based on their level of autonomy. Some drones adhere to pre-programmed flight plans, where routes and actions are predetermined. On the other end of the spectrum, others exhibit real-time decision-making process, leveraging AI algorithms and machine learning techniques to analyse sensor data and adapt to changing conditions dynamically. These highly advanced autonomous drones can modify their flight paths, navigate obstacles, track targets, and execute complex tasks without continual human input. In the military sector, the integration of autonomous drones has revolutionized intelligence gathering, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions. Particularly beneficial in remote or hostile areas, these drones play a crucial role in collecting vital information and monitoring activities in real-time. With their stealthy nature and advanced imaging capabilities, autonomous military drones provide commanders with valuable situational awareness, facilitating mission planning, threat assessment, and target identification. Moreover, their deployment minimizes risks to military personnel, enhancing overall operational efficiency.

Beyond military applications, the impact of autonomous drones extends across various industries. In fields such as aerial photography, videography, search and rescue operations, agricultural monitoring, EVTOLs and delivery services, these drones are reshaping daily operations and offering innovative solutions. The autonomy of drones opens new possibilities, making them versatile tools with the potential to revolutionize how we approach tasks and challenges in the aerial domain.

Synchronised Ballets of Unmanned Systems.

As part of the “National Defence Revolution 4.0” proposed by the Ministry of National Defence of South Korea, the Navy Sea GHOST concept envisions a lean and mobile force that involves close cooperation between manned and unmanned systems. Under the concept, the ROK Navy will acquire advanced artificial intelligence technology and several unmanned systems. The ROK Navy is also planning to strengthen its datalink capabilities to secure communications between different assets. GHOST stands for “Guardian Harmonized with Operating manned Systems and Technology based unmanned systems”, which is based on manned and unmanned artificial intelligence technology, is a ‘game changer’ that will dominate the future battle space.

These developments offer valuable lessons for the Indian Navy in optimizing its capabilities and operational strategies. As the Indian Navy embraces technological advancements, there is a need to focus on:

  1. Integration of AI Technology: Incorporating advanced artificial intelligence technology into naval operations can enhance decision-making processes and improve overall efficiency. The Indian Navy can explore collaborations with technology partners and invest in AI research and development to stay at the forefront of autonomous naval capabilities along with creating data lakes for AI engines to learn from.
  2. Deployment of Unmanned Systems: Learning from the Sea GHOST concept, the Indian Navy can evaluate the benefits of deploying unmanned systems for various tasks, including reconnaissance, surveillance, and strategic positioning. This can not only augment existing capabilities but also reduce risks to human personnel in challenging environments.
  3. Enhanced Datalink Capabilities: Strengthening datalink capabilities is crucial for seamless communication between manned and unmanned assets. The Indian Navy can invest in robust communication infrastructure, ensuring secure and reliable data exchange between different naval systems, thereby improving coordination and response times.
  4. Strategic Manoeuvrability: The concept of a lean and mobile force emphasizes strategic manoeuvrability. The Indian Navy can assess its existing fleet structure and operational doctrines to ensure adaptability in dynamic maritime scenarios. This involves optimizing the balance between manned and unmanned assets for swift responses to evolving threats.
  5. Continuous Adaptation: Embracing a “National Defence Revolution 4.0” mindset involves continuous adaptation to emerging technologies. The Indian Navy can establish frameworks for ongoing training, education, and collaboration with technology experts to stay abreast of advancements and foster a culture of innovation within its ranks.

In conclusion, the article delves into the transformative landscape of autonomous vehicles, exploring the realms of unmanned aerial, ground, and underwater systems. From the skies to the depths of the oceans, the profound impact of autonomy on diverse domains, the evolution of technology has far-reaching implications. The intricate interplay of artificial intelligence, advanced sensors, and innovative algorithms has ushered us in a new era where systems can operate independently, revolutionizing industries and redefining our approach to challenges. As the triad of UAVs, UGVs/USVs, and UUVs continues to advance, the integration of autonomy promises not only increased efficiency and safety but also novel solutions to complex problems, solidifying its role as a cornerstone in the future of autonomous systems.

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