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AutoNaut USV (Unmanned Surface Vessel)

A new company from ESA's UK business incubator has developed an autonomous boat that is propelled by the waves and carries ocean sensors powered by solar energy. 1) 2)

Advances in ocean monitoring are improving our understanding of the seas and environment, including marine life, sea temperatures, pollution and weather. However, fuel, maintenance and manpower for research ships are costly, and sea conditions restrict where measurements can be made.


Figure 1: A new company from ESA's BIC (Business Incubation Center) Harwell in the UK has developed the autonomous AutoNaut boat that is propelled by the waves and carries ocean sensors powered by solar energy (image credit: AutoNaut)

The AutoNaut® start-up has come up with a revolutionary automated surface vessel to collect data for long periods at a fraction of the cost. The vessel is propelled by a unique wave foil that harvests energy from the natural pitching and rolling at sea. Speeds of 2–5.5 km/h are maintained under most sea conditions and hydrodynamic testing has refined the technology with field-trials proven its robustness in stormy seas.

It is one of the world's first small commercial applications of wave propulsion and it can operate at sea for many weeks at a time, covering hundreds of kilometers in a week in areas and conditions too hazardous for humans.

AutoNaut is so quiet that it can measure the whistles and clicks of dolphins over large areas. Using satellite networks, the AutoNaut receives its instructions from anywhere in the world. It can carry cutting-edge, solar-powered sensors to capture raw measurements, process the data onboard and then send them back to the operators via satellite.

"If a satellite radar picks up suspected oil spills our AutoNaut can verify it on the spot, map the extent and take water measurements for relay back to shore," said Phil Johnson from the company.


Figure 2: Preparing AutoNaut: A new company from the ESA Business Incubation Center Harwell in the UK has developed the autonomous AutoNaut boat that is propelled by the waves and carries ocean sensors powered by solar energy (image credit: AutoNaut)

The team recently completed its two-year incubation at the ESA BIC. There, they used highly specialized satellite navigation and communication systems to refine their navigation and control capabilities, and deliver near-realtime data collected from the sensors.

Backed by ESA's £41 500 grant and business support, Autonaut has already taken part in a number of missions with the Royal Navy, the National Oceanographic Center, the UK Met Office, and offshore engineering industries.

AutoNaut is a wave-powered vehicle with the two pairs of wings or foils set on struts at either end of the vehicle. The hull of AutoNaut is 3.5 m long with a beam of 0.43 m having a mass of around 100 kg. In order to recharge the battery while at sea, AutoNaut has solar panels fitted to the surface and can be fitted with a 25 W methanol fuel cell for longer deployments where sunshine is at a premium. 3)

AutoNaut features an AIS (Automatic Identification System) transponder, SeaMe radar transponder and back-up GPS tracker. The two photovoltaic arrays in series provide 125 W and a lithium iron sulphur battery provides the main power. Communication is via Iridium or short-range radio. Operating more like a glider, the AutoNaut has an operating speed of 1–2 knots, but can reach a maximum of 3 knots. AutoNaut also has a small thruster, which can be used to aid in propulsion. The small size and small battery mean that for most missions, consumption has to be kept within what the PV array can provide. This in turn gives it very long duration, potentially six months.

• As of March 2018, AutoNaut, developer of autonomous wave propelled vessels, has rolled out its new generation of 5 meter AutoNaut USV (Unmanned Surface Vessel) with several new and upgraded features. The latest wave foil technology enables speeds of 1-3 knots to be consistently maintained, with no need for fuel and for long endurance missions. The vessel has been ruggedized throughout and features improvements in the deployment system – for launch/recovery from ship or direct from slipway. 4) 5)


Figure 3: AutoNaut presents its next generation USV (image credit: AutoNaut)

An enhanced rudder system makes the USV even more maneuverable – able to keep station within a 25 meter radius. Finally, the 5 meter has additional space and power to allow for multiple sensor, including: MetOcean, ADCP (Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler), Passive Acoustic Monitoring, Surveillance and a Communications Gateway.

AutoNaut is the answer to the age-old challenge of affordable oceanic data gathering and creates new opportunities to meet unique mission requirements in a changing world. USV means controlled by satellite from anywhere on the planet.


1) "Automated sea vehicles for monitoring the oceans," ESA, 22 March 2018, URL:

2) "Automated sea vehicles for monitoring the oceans," ESA, 22 March, 2018, URL:

3) "Autonomous Surface Vehicles," National Oceanography Center (NOC), 2018, URL:


5) "Next Generation AutoNaut USV Unveiled," Marine Technology, 14 March 2018, URL:

The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: "Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors" (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (