Every year, uncrewed surface vessels (USVs) at the cutting-edge of technology become more capable platforms for hydrographic surveying, inching ever closer to the dream of true autonomous force multiplication. Although the fundamental purpose of these vessels is data collection itself, many of the recent advances relate to navigation and autonomy. Some of these advances in navigation and autonomy can be brought to vessels never designed to have such capabilities through a novel offboard autopilot approach.

In the worst cases, USVs have no automatic navigation capabilities, relying on continuous manual navigation using a remote control. Through a research partnership, Spatialnetics and the University of New Brunswick have developed an autopilot for vessels not outfitted initially with the capability that can be used without modifying the vessel’s hardware. Instead, minimal modifications are made to the shore station to allow all hardware and software to be located there, reducing complexity and allowing the vessel to continue delivering the same payload and battery performance while upgrading its capabilities, allowing better survey repeatability and minimizing the workload for shore operators.

Moving to an offboard advanced navigation and autonomy solution that can be implemented on nearly any USV allows any remotely controlled data collection platform to be integrated into further advances in navigation capabilities such as multi-vessel swarming. Although cutting-edge USVs are advancing rapidly,
older or less sophisticated vessels are still powerful data collection platforms for research and industry. By implementing a simple yet innovative solution to improve their autonomy, the capabilities of these vessels are augmented to allow them to continue to be an important tool for remote hydrographic operations.


 Graham Christie

Graham Christie is a Master of Science in Engineering student in the Department of Geodesy and Geomatics Engineering at the University of New Brunswick. He is a member of the Ocean Mapping Group at UNB, and is a Certified Hydrographer (In Training) and an Engineer in Training in the Canadian province of New Brunswick. His studies focus on ocean mapping, specifically on developing low-cost or open-source options for increasing autonomy for uncrewed surface vessels.

Daniel Neville

Daniel Neville is a founding partner and managing director of Spatialnetics. He obtained a Bachelor of Computer Science from the University of New Brunswick and has held multiple roles throughout his career in the hydrospatial industry. Across these roles he has combined an interest for new technology with improving human interaction with automated systems.

Ian Church

Dr. Ian Church is an Associate Professor in the Department of Geodesy and Geomatics Engineering at the University of New Brunswick. He leads the Ocean Mapping Group at UNB, is the chair of the Canadian Ocean Mapping Research and Education Network (COMREN), and is a Professional Engineer in the province of New Brunswick. He specializes in ocean mapping research and training, with almost 20 years of experience in the field.