Autonomous Vessels

G&C is a leading company integrating the needs of Government and commercial clients to develop and test seagoing autonomous systems. 

Introduction to Autonomy

An unmanned system’s (UMS) autonomy is its own ability of sensing, perceiving, analyzing, communicating, planning, decision-making, and acting, to achieve its goals as assigned by its human operator(s). Autonomy is characterized into levels by factors including mission complexity, environmental difficulty, and level of Human-Robot Interaction (HRI) required to accomplish the missions.

A system with autonomy is referred to as autonomous. An autonomous UMS receives its mission from the human and accomplishes that mission with our without further HRI. Autonomy can vary from what is commonly referred to as “remote control”, which requires a high level of HRI, to fully intelligent autonomy, which requires virtually no human interaction with the UMS. The figure below illustrates the Autonomy Levels for Unmanned Systems (ALFUS), as defined by the National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST).

ALFUS applies to all types of commercial and military unmanned systems (UXV):

  • Unmanned Surface Vessel (USV)

  • Unmanned Underwater Vessel (UUV)

  • Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)

  • Unmanned Ground Vehicle (UGV)


Challenges in Autonomy

If a USV or UUV is expected to perform more than a transit mission between points, autonomy becomes a much more complex problem. This is where commercial applications of remote control and vessel autonomy differ from military applications. An autonomous military vessel is expected to perform self-navigation and control functions but will also be required to perform complex mission evolutions in hostile environments. Gibbs & Cox is dedicated to solving these difficult issues and investigating the exciting potential of unmanned marine vessels.

Technical issues for advancing UXV technology include:

  • Maneuverability (particularly for large vehicles)

  • Endurance (range and persistence)

  • Reliability (redundancy, self-maintenance and self-repair of systems and equipment)

  • Communications (high speed, reliable and secure)

  • Cooperative employment of multiple UXV working together autonomously

 Ethical and legal issues for advancing UXV technology include:

  • Safety of the UXV and the vessels or objects it encounters

  • Security of the UXV (physical and cyber)

  • Autonomous employment of weapon systems (offensive and defensive)

How do we best take advantage of the opportunities Autonomy provides in the area of vessel design?

  • Much of what we do in designing a manned vessel is in support of the humans on-board. When we

    remove this constraint, the design trade space expands dramatically.

  • Removing the weight and volume of human support elements such as crew living spaces (berthing,

    galleys, offices, etc.) and environmental systems (HVAC, sanitary, potable water, etc.) allows for an

    increase in vessel useful load capacity.

  • Removing the humans from the platform removes the weakest link in the chain with respect to

    acceptable motions and accelerations. Hull forms can be designed differently and optimized for

    specific missions.

ussv-Vigor Industrial.jpg


OASIS 4 - Pacific Gyre.JPG

NOAA OASIS - Pacific Gyre

Vigor - Unmanned Influence Sweep System (UISS) Concept

Gibbs & Cox Legacy

Gibbs & Cox is proud to continue our 85-year tradition of innovation in marine and naval ship design as a leader in Autonomous Vessel development. Our initial work implementing advanced electronic control systems was back in 1955 with the production of SEA LEGS for the U.S. Navy. An automated system was devised that actively controlled two submerged hydrofoils in order to influence the pitch and roll attitude of the vessel in flight. This first application of actively controlled foils provided improved ride quality and safety over other vessels with fixed hydrofoils.



Electronic control systems and automation have come a long way since then, and we at Gibbs & Cox understand that marine vessel autonomy is much more than safe navigation and control. Our experience in developing unmanned vessels for various clients begins with our understanding of Autonomy, our understanding of the issues and our willingness to team with the best in industry.

To talk autonomy with Gibbs & Cox contact:

Jonathan Applequist

VP of Maritime Services Group


Jeff Bowles

Director, DLBA Division