The British Ministry of Defence (MOD) has granted funding to UK-based global major industrial technology group Rolls-Royce to further develop the company’s Artificial Chief Engineer technology. This is an autonomous ship machinery control system, intended to permit naval vessels to carry out long-endurance missions with reduced human involvement.
“Artificial Chief Engineer is a critical enabler for autonomous missions by acting as the equivalent of the engineering department responsible for the health and the operation of an unmanned vessel’s machinery,” explained Rolls-Royce. “Navies intend to increase their use of optionally-manned and unmanned vessels to project power further for less cost by reducing reliance on manpower, allowing higher-risk or longer-endurance missions, and by lowering the procurement and operating costs of future platforms.”
The funding was granted under the Intelligent Ship Phase Two programme of the MOD’s Defence and Security Accelerator. The amount of the funding was not revealed but the programme will run for 16 months. Artificial Chief Engineer is being developed within Rolls-Royce’s own Aletheia Framework, which ensures that all ethical considerations are fully assessed before artificial intelligence (AI) is implemented and that, once it is deployed, the AI’s decisions can be trusted.
“This is incredibly good news for our Artificial Chief Engineer capability, which we launched at (Defence and Security Equipment International) in 2019,” highlighted Rolls-Royce Defence Naval Electrical, Automation and Controls Programme executive Ben Thorp. “Our involvement in this funding programme certainly strengthens our position with the UK MOD for Unmanned Surface Vessel enablers. This funding will also increase the technical maturity of Artificial Chief Engineer for further applications across the breadth of the marine market, both Naval and Commercial, where we are seeing increasing levels of demand for this type of technology.”
Intelligent Ship is a programme of the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory and serves to develop, evaluate and de-risk novel intelligent system technologies, including Artificial Chief Engineer, that increase the technical advantages of the UK armed forces. The programme will research the best ways to employ effective human-AI collaboration in order to ensure better planning and decision-making within complex operating environments. This has been made necessary by the swift growth in AI, automation, autonomy and machine learning technologies.
“Artificial Chief Engineer is an on-board, secure, decision-making control system designed to intelligently operate the machinery of lean-manned and unmanned naval vessels,” elucidated the company. “The technology makes condition-based decisions about how best to operate the machinery – including the engines, propulsion system, electrical network and fuel system – using algorithms to optimise the ship for maximum efficiency, lowest noise, top speed or to preserve damaged equipment as required by the ship’s mission. This reduces the workload of remote operators and allows increased mission and system complexity in future unmanned ship designs.”