DIGITAL ENGINEERING - Perception System for Situational Awareness and Contact Detection for Unmanned Underwater Vessels

Navy SBIR 22.1 - Topic N221-033
NAVSEA - Naval Sea Systems Command
Opens: January 12, 2022 - Closes: February 10, 2022 (12:00pm est)

N221-033 TITLE: DIGITAL ENGINEERING - Perception System for Situational Awareness and Contact Detection for Unmanned Underwater Vessels


TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Ground / Sea Vehicles

The technology within this topic is restricted under the International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR), 22 CFR Parts 120-130, which controls the export and import of defense-related material and services, including export of sensitive technical data, or the Export Administration Regulation (EAR), 15 CFR Parts 730-774, which controls dual use items. Offerors must disclose any proposed use of foreign nationals (FNs), their country(ies) of origin, the type of visa or work permit possessed, and the statement of work (SOW) tasks intended for accomplishment by the FN(s) in accordance with the Announcement. Offerors are advised foreign nationals proposed to perform on this topic may be restricted due to the technical data under US Export Control Laws.

OBJECTIVE: Develop a sense and avoid perception system for unmanned underwater vessels (UUVs) to support the safe maneuvering and navigation in both the surface and the undersea domains.

DESCRIPTION: A UUV needs to surface periodically to get GPS fixes, charge batteries, or communicate with other vessels and buoys. Before surfacing a UUV must identify potential surface or near-surface contacts, obstacles or features to ascertain if the environment is safe for the vehicle to ascend and conduct operations.

The Navy is seeking to develop and demonstrate a sense and avoid perception processing system for small-class UUVs as categorized in the Navyís report to Congress on Autonomous Undersea Vehicle Requirement for 2025 [Ref 1]. The system will enable the UUV to detect, classify, track, and estimate risk of contact with surface and undersea vessels operating in proximity. The solution must be scalable for future adaptation on larger unmanned system platforms including medium-class and larger UUVs. No current commercial technologies exist that have the military applications that the Navy seeks.

The perception processing system will utilize onboard sensors to provide the UUV 360 degree situational awareness both on and near the waterís surface to enable the vehicle to safely surface or avoid a collision. The system must be able to process the raw data and provide the contact attributes as an output to an onboard autonomous control system to support obstacle/collision avoidance.

Contacts may include all sizes of power and sailing vessels, buoys and other navigation markers, and structures. Attributes may include but are not limited to contact size, height to length ratio, range, bearing, and speed/direction. The perception processing system should be capable of measuring a contactís relative position information, rate of change of relative position, and/or the trajectory information to decide whether a risk of collision exists and if an avoidance maneuver is required. These measurements and projections of future movements include varying degrees of uncertainty. An estimate of the uncertainty is valuable in assessing when sufficient information is available to make a maneuver decision. The decision timeline is time-constrained but the reaction time to successfully evade. Maneuver decisions must be made early enough to ensure safe separation. Additionally the system should be capable of tracking surface or near-surface objects and their attributes to maintain awareness of potential surface contacts within 10 nautical miles of UUV objective areas that are closing on the location of UUV(s). Concepts proposing additional external sensors as a portion of their solution must do so without adversely impacting trim, balance, or hydrodynamic performance of the target host platform and should offer solutions requiring 50w or less power.

The solution may be software or a combination of software, hardware processors, and sensors necessary to support operation of the developed perception algorithms. For the initial phase of this SBIR topic, prefer solutions suitable for with small-class (7.5" diameter) expeditionary UUVs, which are two-person carry in size and weight in accordance with MIL-STD 1472 section 5.8 [Ref 2]. Application of artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML) and other digital engineering techniques are desired. As an element of the seminal transition event in Phase II, testing of the key performance parameters and key system attributes will be conducted in a relevant environment to verify that the capabilities of the system were satisfied.

To ensure interoperability with planned and future unmanned systems, solutions must also comply with DoNís Unmanned Maritime Autonomy Architecture (UMAA) [Ref 3]. UMAA establishes a standard for common interfaces and software reuse among the mission autonomy and the various vehicle controllers, payloads, and Command and Control (C2) services for unmanned systems (UxS) vehicles. The UMAA common standard for Interface Control Documents (ICDs) mitigates the risk of unique autonomy solutions applicable to just a few vehicles allowing flexibility to incorporate vendor improvements as they are identified; effects cross-domain interoperability of UxS vehicles; and allows for open architecture (OA) modularity of autonomy solutions, control systems, C2, and payloads. UMAA standards and required ICDs will be provided during the Phase I effort.

PHASE I: Develop a concept design for the automated perception processing system that meets the requirements in the Description. The concept design must define a system that can consistently sense, perceive, and report surface objects and vessels and include any modeling and simulation, studies in support of concept risk reduction. Demonstrate the feasibility of the proposed concept through modeling, analysis, and concept demonstrations. Feasibility studies in Phase I will be oriented at solutions for small class UUVs, but should assess scalability for future medium-class UUVs and other expeditionary unmanned 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), develop, deliver, and integrate perception processing prototype system capabilities for demonstration and characterization of key performance parameters, key system attributes, and objectives. Based on lessons learned in Phase II through the prototype demonstration, integrate the perception processing system into unmanned surface vessel of opportunity, deliver the prototype solution, and demonstrate feasibility of the concept and functionality of the autonomy.

PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: Incorporate design improvements from the Phase II demonstration efforts and assist the Navy in transitioning the technology to Navy use. Fabricate and deliver prototype software with integrated Navy provided UUV and USV. Independent testing and evaluation will be conducted by the Navy in cooperation with Fleet end user community to validate effectiveness and suitability for transition and fielding. Autonomy and products developed and demonstrated under this initiative provide potential solutions for other unmanned surface and undersea systems across the Navy portfolio and throughout commercial activities in including offshore oil and gas pipeline inspection and undersea survey, search, salvage and recovery, and port security companies; and in other Government agencies employing unmanned systems.


  1. "Secretary of the Navy Report to Congress: Autonomous Undersea Vehicle Requirement for 2025." dated 18 February 2016.
  2. "Department of Defense Design Criteria Standard, Human Engineering (MIL-STD 1472F), 23 Aug 1999."
  3. PEO Unmanned and Small Combatants (PEO USC); Unmanned Maritime Autonomy Architecture (UMAA), Architecture Design Description (ADD); 29 Dec 2019.
  4. DON Innovation. "The Expeditionary MCM (ExMCM) Company: The Newest Capability in U.S. Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Community." July 2017.

KEYWORDS: Underwater Unmanned Vehicle (UUV); Unmanned Surface Vehicle (USV); Autonomous Unmanned Vehicle (AUV); Perception; Autonomy


The Navy Topic above is an "unofficial" copy from the overall DoD 22.1 SBIR BAA. Please see the official DoD Topic website at for any updates.

The DoD issued its 22.1 SBIR BAA pre-release on December 1, 2021, which opens to receive proposals on January 12, 2022, and closes February 10, 2022 (12:00pm est).

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