Ulladulla Harbour was hive of activity last week as OCIUS Technology Ltd. gave its latest unmanned surface vessel (USV) a taste of the open ocean.
OCIUS, founded by former Milton GP Dr Robert Dane and based at the University of New South Wales, is preparing for an open ocean trial of its 'Bruce Class' of Bluebottles.
The unique vessels use solar, wind and wave energy to continually conduct ocean surveillance.
In November, the Defence Innovation Hub awarded $1.7 million to OCIUS to determine the "viability of an intelligent command and control network of persistent unmanned surface vessels".
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It was the second contract OCIUS received from Defence. The first contract was to build a Bluebottle named 'Bruce' - an 18-foot prototype which met all its key performance indicators.
In November, the team from OCIUS christened its next generation Bluebottle 'Bob', named after former Prime Minister and company chairman Bob Hawke.
Dr Dane said the company aimed to deploy its unique vessel for open ocean testing off Bawley Point in early May. The company has employed machine learning engineers from UNSW, to implement similar technology to their robots that play soccer.
"It's a very exciting time for us because between now and the end of June, the idea is to put both 'Bob' and 'Bruce' in the box," he said.
"It's a completely scalable model, so as you put more robots into the box [area of ocean], they all adjust and do the different jobs.
"It's what they call human-on-the-loop. A human doesn't drive these things, or look after them. They are all autonomous robots, they look after each other, they update eachother with eachother's world view."
The goal is to have these vessels on the ocean 24/7 at a low cost for private and public sectors.
"The big thing for Defence and science is nobody is out there in harm's way," Dr Dane said.
"If we successfully demonstrate this over the next two months we'll then go into the third phase of the contract which will be to develop the product that the Australian Defence Force and Home Affairs would buy."