Coupled Control of Expeditionary Remote Operating Vehicles (ROV) and Manipulator Payloads

Navy SBIR 21.1 - Topic N211-066
NAVSEA - Naval Sea Systems Command - Mr. Dean Putnam -
Opens: January 14, 2021 - Closes: February 18, 2021 (12:00pm EDT)

N211-066 TITLE: Coupled Control of Expeditionary Remote Operating Vehicles (ROV) and Manipulator Payloads

RT&L FOCUS AREA(S): Autonomy

TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Ground / Sea Vehicles

OBJECTIVE: Develop a coupled control system for optimal manipulator operation onboard an expeditionary class underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) for greater performance.

DESCRIPTION: The United States Navyís Maritime Expeditionary Standoff Response program seeks to improve the capabilities of expeditionary Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs), which currently have limited manipulation capabilities. One of the improvements that is being implemented is the integration of multi-degree of freedom manipulator and end effector payloads that will enable these ROVs to perform increasingly complex tasks in the marine environment. ROVs currently in use operate with vehicle control systems that are independent from their payloads. During most operations using this paradigm, the ROV is able to adequately maintain its pose while the manipulator conducts its intervention tasks, operating with its own fully independent control system. For many tasks, an operator at a topside control station must intervene to alter the ROV orientation, communicating with a second operator of the manipulator/end-effector payload(s) who uses a second control station for operation of the manipulator. Work conducted under this topic will develop a fully integrated and coupled single control system for the combined ROV-manipulator system enabling the ROVs thrusters to provide additional degrees of freedom to the manipulator end effector. This approach will enable more fully optimized manipulation and reduce operator workload while performing complex manipulation tasks, and it will reduce the size and complexity of the ROV-manipulator systemís control station as the ROV and manipulator will no longer require separate control interfaces.

A coupled control system will improve ROV and manipulator/end-effector payload system effectiveness and efficiency in performing complex underwater tasks, while concurrently reducing the size and complexity of legacy topside control stations, the requisite skill level and the quantity of system operators required for task accomplishment. Introduction of improved automation and coupled control of ROVs and payload control will reduce operator burden, training, and life cycle control costs for sustaining operational readiness of Maritime Expeditionary Standoff Response (MESR) systems.

To facilitate currently fielded systems as well as future developments, platform agnostic control systems architectures will be strongly preferred. Initial ROV platforms for demonstration and feasibility study should include either the VideoRay Defender or SRS Fusion vehicles that are currently in use with Expeditionary EOD units.

Initial feasibility studies and demonstrations may take advantage of open source simulation environments such as Open Source Robotic Foundationís Gazebo [Ref 3] or other suitable models that have sufficient fidelity to test and evaluate proposed solutions.

After a candidate coupled control system prototype is developed, it will be used to conduct a series of tasks that would currently be conducted with independent control systems. The differences between the current method and the prototype coupled control system will be quantified and recorded. Particular areas of interest to be explored during this experiment will be total system energy consumption, operator experience, manipulator function, and any other notable changes in capabilities and limitations of the system. This experiment will be conducted in an operationally relevant environment. Access to an operationally relevant environment for the experiment can be provided by the Navy, or the experiment may be conducted at a suitable location chosen by the selected company.

The control system developed under this program must employ a cybersecurity-compatible open architecture design to facilitate modular application to ROV platforms and manipulator payloads other than those for which it is specifically developed during this effort.

The Phase I effort will not require access to classified information.

Work produced in Phase II may become classified. Note: The prospective contractor(s) must be U.S. Owned and Operated with no Foreign Influence as defined by DOD 5220.22-M, National Industrial Security Program Operating Manual, unless acceptable mitigating procedures can and have been implemented and approved by the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA). The selected contractor and/or subcontractor must be able to acquire and maintain a secret level facility and Personnel Security Clearances, in order to perform on advanced phases of this contract as set forth by DCSA and NAVSEA in order to gain access to classified information pertaining to the national defense of the United States and its allies; this will be an inherent requirement. The selected company will be required to safeguard classified material IAW DoD 5220.22-M during the advance phases of this contract.

PHASE I: Develop a proposed control system concept and perform a feasibility study of that proposed concept Feasibility will be assessed based on analytical results of the study.

Open source robotics simulation environments are acceptable for evaluating feasibility as are proprietary, custom, or in-house simulations, provided their underlying assumptions and constraints are sufficiently documented. For simulation-based experiments, the ROV and the manipulator system that is modeled should be representative of current Expeditionary ROVs and commercially available manipulator systems to the maximum extent possible. In areas where the model diverges from current systems, the necessary modifications to more closely align with fielded systems should be documented. At minimum, simulated models should demonstrate the fundamental concepts of the coupled control system well enough to evaluate their potential application to Navy ROVs outfitted with multiple-degree of freedom manipulator/end-effector systems. The Phase I Option, if exercised, will include the initial design specifications and capabilities description to build a prototype solution in Phase II.

PHASE II: Based on the results of Phase I efforts and the Phase II Statement of Work (SOW), the company will develop a prototype of the coupled control system to be integrated onto an ROV-manipulator system that is representative of expeditionary class ROVs the Navy utilizes. Evaluate improvements against current systems through the conduct of a series of manipulation tasks in an operationally relevant ocean environment using both the coupled control system and the independent ROV and manipulator control systems. Quantify energy consumption requirements and characterize capabilities and limitations of path planning, operator experience, and overall manipulation functionalities of the proposed coupled control system in an operationally relevant environment. The Navy will provide access to operationally relevant environments for testing and demonstration if requested. Alternatively, selected companies may conduct tests and demonstrations in environments of their choice provided those environments maintain sufficient fidelity to fully evaluate candidate solutions.

It is probable that the work under this effort will be classified under Phase II (see Description section for details).

PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: Support the Navy in transitioning the technology to Navy use. Ensure that the final product to be transitioned to the Navy will be a coupled control system for a Navy expeditionary class ROV with integrated manipulators; and will be designed and fabricated with a cyber-security compatible open systems architecture that will enable modular application to systems other than the prototype hardware/software on which it was originally developed, tuned, and demonstrated. Validate the system by carrying out a series of manipulation tasks relevant to Navy operations.

Coupled control for ROV/manipulator systems must demonstrate the potential to reduce operator workload and complexity of topside workstations, improve system energy efficiency, and improve the range of manipulation tasks that can be accomplished. Remote underwater manipulation is widely applicable beyond solely Navy applications, particularly in oil and gas, scientific, and academic communities.


  1. Satja Sivcev, et. al. "Underwater Manipulators: A Review." Ocean Engineering, Volume 163, 1 September 2018, pp. 431-450.
  2. Barbalata, Corina; Dunnigan, Matthew W. and Petillot, Yvan. "Coupled and Decoupled Force/Motion Controllers for an Underwater Vehicle-Manipulator System." Journal of Marine Science and Engineering, Volume 6, Issue 3, September 2018.
  3. Open Source Robotic Foundationís GazeboĖ:

KEYWORDS: Remotely Operated Vehicle; ROV; Manipulation; Expeditionary; Coupled Control; Autonomous Manipulation; Unmanned Systems


The Navy Topic above is an "unofficial" copy from the overall DoD 21.1 SBIR BAA. Please see the official DoD Topic website at for any updates.

The DoD issued its 21.1 SBIR BAA pre-release on December 8, 2020, which opens to receive proposals on January 14, 2021, and closes February 18, 2021 at 12:00 p.m. ET.

Direct Contact with Topic Authors: During the pre-release period (Dec 8, 2020 to January 13, 2021) proposing firms have an opportunity to directly contact the Technical Point of Contact (TPOC) to ask technical questions about the specific BAA topic. Once DoD begins accepting proposals on January 14, 2021 no further direct contact between proposers and topic authors is allowed unless the Topic Author is responding to a question submitted during the Pre-release period.

SITIS Q&A System: After the pre-release period, proposers may submit written questions through SITIS (SBIR/STTR Interactive Topic Information System) at, login and follow instructions. In SITIS, the questioner and respondent remain anonymous but all questions and answers are posted for general viewing. Topic Q&A will close to new questions on February 4, 2021 at 12:00 p.m. ET

Note: Questions should be limited to specific information related to improving the understanding of a particular topicís requirements. Proposing firms may not ask for advice or guidance on solution approach and you may not submit additional material to the topic author. If information provided during an exchange with the topic author is deemed necessary for proposal preparation, that information will be made available to all parties through SITIS. After the pre-release period, questions must be asked through the SITIS on-line system.

Topics Search Engine: Visit the DoD Topic Search Tool at to find topics by keyword across all DoD Components participating in this BAA.

Help: If you have general questions about DoD SBIR program, please contact the DoD SBIR Help Desk at 703-214-1333 or via email at

[ Return ]