The Navy is kicking off a pilot program for an autonomy lab that would eventually help test and integrate new advances in autonomy software with existing unmanned vessels, keeping the unmanned fleet outfitted with the newest capabilities for the lowest development cost.
The Rapid Autonomy Integration Lab (RAIL) is beginning as a pilot this year and would become a formal effort in Fiscal Year 2022 if the Navy can secure the funding. Capt. Pete Small, the head of the Unmanned Maritime Systems Program Office, told USNI News RAIL is “the next logical step forward in executing the Navy’s vision for developing and deploying unmanned systems.”
After a couple years of laying the groundwork with common control systems and common combat systems, to ensure improvements benefit all unmanned surface vessels (USVs) and unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs), “the RAIL concept will build off of those efforts to provide infrastructure, tools and processes to develop, test, certify and deploy new and updated autonomous capabilities to those vehicles. It really addresses the fundamental question, how will the Navy quickly and effectively develop, update and maintain our autonomy software?”
Autonomy software helps unmanned vehicles understand the environment around them, navigate safely, and conduct their missions. As that software improves, or as the vehicles are asked to do more in more complex environments, the Navy wants to be able to update existing vehicles with new software packages rather than having to buy new vehicles. The vision is similar to Aegis Combat System updates for Navy surface combatants, where new capabilities can be added to the ships through software block upgrades.
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