DIGITAL ENGINEERING - Combatant Craft Autonomy-Enabling Sensors, Perception and Command & Control

Navy SBIR 22.1 - Topic N221-034
NAVSEA - Naval Sea Systems Command
Opens: January 12, 2022 - Closes: February 10, 2022 (12:00pm est)

N221-034 TITLE: DIGITAL ENGINEERING - Combatant Craft Autonomy-Enabling Sensors, Perception and Command & Control

OUSD (R&E) MODERNIZATION PRIORITY: General Warfighting Requirements (GWR)

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 sensor, perception, and Command and Control (C2) suite suitable and sufficient for enabling combatant craft mission-specific autonomous behaviors.

DESCRIPTION: The Navyís Maritime Expeditionary Security Force (MESF) provides port and harbor security, and high value asset security inland, on coastal waterways and ashore. Advanced unmanned autonomous patrol craft would help reduce risks to boat crews and enable unique new operational capabilities. The operating environments and mission requirements for these craft differ significantly from open ocean missions, which are the focus of many current Navy autonomous vessel development efforts. Specifically, the Navy needs a small form factor sensor, perception, and C2 suite to enable autonomy for combatant craft addressing the unique challenges of their mission sets. New proposed system must meet Size, Weight, Power and Cost (SWaP-C) of existing systems if applicable.

Current sensors and perception software for Unmanned Surface Vessels (USVs) lack the ability to conduct precision close-in tracking of small vessels for fine-tune and/or high relative speed maneuvering. They are also unable to sufficiently sense and characterize a potential threat vessel or individuals on it, or make a determination of a potential threatís intent, either for reporting to a human operator or triggering autonomous vessel responses.

Many potential sensor/perception technologies exist that may be suitable for these particular challenges. For the sake of example, but not to limit the scope of potential proposed solutions, a Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) system or radar system may be appropriate for close-in tracking to enable autonomous maneuvering near or in contact with another vessel, or an Electro Optical/Infra-Red (EO/IR) camera with advanced image recognition capabilities may be appropriate for characterizing contact vessels and establishing probable intent. Many candidate LIDAR and EO/IR camera systems are already commercially available for other applications (e.g., LIDAR for agricultural surveying, radars in use for car traffic detection and lane assist systems, or EO/IR cameras for fixed site security).

Analysis and development is also required to optimize a system to allow high level C2 of multiple varied types of combatant craft, both manned and unmanned, when equipped with autonomy software and controllers. This includes a mesh networking (or other suitable) communications system, a Common Operating Picture (COP), and C2 interface. The C2 interface must provide clear indications to human operators of the current threats perceived and high-level behaviors being executed by autonomous craft and allow dynamic tasking/re-tasking of high-level behaviors from human operators to the autonomous craft.

These capabilities should be suitable for integration on a variety of small combatant craft. Size and weight should be minimized, notionally not to exceed one half a standard electronics rack, with smaller electronics solutions preferred. Similarly, deck space for integration of sensors is at a premium, so smaller and/or less-invasive options are preferred. Power consumption should also be minimized to the extent possible.

Target platforms for transition include the 40 PB (40 foot patrol boat), Rigid Inflatable Boats (RIBs), MK VI Patrol Boat, etc., and/or existing small autonomous vessels, e.g., the Common Unmanned Surface Vehicle (CUSV).

A variety of autonomous vehicles and autonomy software frameworks already exist, in various states of development and employment. Many of these are commercial proprietary and tied to specific autonomous vehicles, such as the Leidos autonomy developed for the SeaHunter program. While not prescriptive of any particular vessel or framework, it is the hope for this effort to leverage one or more existing capabilities to the maximum extent practical. This reduces the scope to focus specifically on the immature components of sensing, perception, and C2 as applied to combatant craft operations. One potential system is the Control Architecture for Robotic Agent Command and Sensing (CARACaS), originally developed by NASAís Jet Propulsion Laboratory for the Office of Naval Research (https://www-robotics.jpl.nasa.gov/tasks/showTask.cfm?FuseAction=ShowTask&TaskID=271&tdaID=700075).

PHASE I: Develop a concept for an advanced sensor, perception, and C2 suite suitable for integration on a variety of existing or future combatant craft and integration with an existing vessel autonomy framework. Demonstrate the viability of the concept in meeting Navy requirements, as described above, and will establish that the system can be feasibly developed into a useful product for the Navy. Feasibility will be established by engineering analysis, component and system level modeling and simulation, and component technology maturity assessments. 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 and the Phase II Statement of Work (SOW), develop and deliver a prototype to the Navy for evaluation in meeting the performance goals defined in the Phase II SOW and the Navy requirements for a combatant craft sensor, perception, and C2 suite. Conduct on-water testing as well as modeling or analysis to demonstrate system performance over the required range of parameters. This will allow the government team to evaluate the systemís ability to meet the performance goals defined in the Phase II SOW and the Navy requirements for the system. On-water testing location(s) will be negotiated between the small business and government team for reasons of proximity to both parties, weather/current conditions, availability of instrumented ranges, etc. Evaluation results will be used in collaboration with the Navy design team to refine the prototype into a design that will meet Navy needs. Conduct performance integration and risk assessments, and develop a cost benefit analysis and cost estimate for a naval shipboard system. Prepare a Phase III development plan to transition the technology to Navy and potential commercial use.

PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: Support the Navy in transitioning the technology to Navy use and determine appropriate system components/variants for shore-side operation and installation on various craft. Support required modifications for integration, performance and environmental testing, and required certifications (e.g., electronic interference mitigation, battery safety, etc., as applicable). This includes providing component manufacturer information and specifications and/or testing components to verify regulations compliance. Target platforms for transition include the 40 PB (40 foot patrol boat), Rigid Inflatable Boats (RIBs), MK VI Patrol Boat, etc., and/or existing small autonomous vessels, e.g., the CUSV.

Other potential targets for transition include U.S. Coast Guard patrol craft, which have similar mission sets, and commercial vendors for related applications, for example, pleasure or fishing boats. Additional potential transition targets include universities or research institutions studying and/or employing small autonomous craft.

REFERENCES:

  1. Ansary, Jamal, et al. "Swarms of Aquatic Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USV), a Review From Simulation to Field Implementation." Proceedings of the ASME 2020 International Design Engineering Technical Conference and Computers and Information Engineering Conference. Volume 2: 16th International Conference on Multibody Systems, Nonlinear Dynamics, and Control (MSNDC). Virtual, Online. August 17-19, 2020. V002T02A029. ASME. https://doi.org/10.1115/DETC2020-22702.
  2. Halterman, Ryan and Bruch, Michael "Velodyne HDL-64E lidar for unmanned surface vehicle obstacle detection", Proc. SPIE 7692, Unmanned Systems Technology XII, 76920D. 7 May 2010; https://doi.org/10.1117/12.850611.
  3. Schaus, Brian M. Improving maritime domain awareness using neural networks for target of interest classification. Naval Postgraduate School Thesis. Monterrey, CA. 2015. http://hdl.handle.net/10945/45252.
  4. See, Hongze Alex. Coordinated guidance strategy for multiple USVs during maritime interdiction operations. Naval Postgraduate School Thesis. Monterrey, CA. 2017. http://hdl.handle.net/10945/56175.

KEYWORDS: Autonomy; image recognition; threat detection; Command and Control; Manned Unmanned Teaming; high value unit escort.

** TOPIC NOTICE **

The Navy Topic above is an "unofficial" copy from the overall DoD 22.1 SBIR BAA. Please see the official DoD Topic website at rt.cto.mil/rtl-small-business-resources/sbir-sttr/ for any updates.

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