• Status: Closed

  • Key features: Investment of up to £5m in collaborative R&D projects to stimulate the development of marine and maritime autonomous systems.

  • Programme: Collaborative research and development

  • Award: Up to £5m

  • Opens: 13 Oct 2014, 00:00

  • Registration closes: 19 Nov 2014, 12:00

  • Closes: 26 Nov 2014, 12:00

  • Support phone number: 0300 321 4357

Maritime autonomous systems

Competition results

See here for the competition results.


Innovate UK and the Ministry of Defence, through the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), are to invest up to £5m in collaborative R&D projects to stimulate the development of marine and maritime autonomous systems.   
Marine research covers the flora and fauna of oceans and seas, and their interaction with coastal environments and the atmosphere. Maritime research includes technologies and innovative solutions that seek better use of ocean and sea resources, as well as the design, build and operation of vessels.   
The aim of the competition is to build collaboration to meet the technological challenges and opportunities afforded by the increasing use of autonomous systems across the industry.   
We are seeking proposals from businesses within the marine and maritime sector, and from those currently operating outside it. All companies should have expertise in aspects of autonomous systems including safe operation, physical security, endurance and deployment.   
Proposals must be collaborative and business-led, and we would like to see micro and small businesses involved. We expect to fund mainly industrial research projects in which a business partner will generally attract up to 50% public funding for their project costs (60% for SMEs).   
We expect projects to range in size from total costs of £500k to £1.5m, although we may consider projects outside this range.   
This is a two-stage competition that opens for applicants on 13 October 2014. The deadline for expressions of interest is at noon on 26 November 2014.   
Register for the briefing event for potential applicants in London on 15 October 2014 and there will be consortia-building events before the competition opens. Register for the WEBINAR on 15 October 2014.


The UK Marine Industries Roadmap highlights the opportunities and capabilities covering autonomy and sensors which are recognised as crosscutting, enabling technologies to support the Strategy for Growth for the UK Marine Industries.  
The working group, Maritime Autonomous Systems Initiative, has developed a programme of activity under the vision ‘Towards UK Excellence in Maritime Autonomous Systems'. This joint initiative of the UK Marine Industries Alliance, UK Naval Engineering Science and Technology (UK NEST) and the Robotics & Autonomous Systems Special Interest Group (RAS SIG), has identified major market opportunities and strong UK capability in addition to technology development priorities.   
In addition, the Defence Growth Partnership has announced a joint investment to create a UK Centre for Maritime Intelligent Systems. This aims to exploit technology from across the UK supplier base and to address barriers to the increased use of maritime autonomy.     
In its Strategy on Robotics & Autonomous Systems, the RAS SIG identifies this transformational and disruptive  technology as having broad applications across the marine and maritime industry.  
Examples include:  
  • long endurance sensing to improve sustainable use of marine resources while also monitoring the impacts of human activity   
  • data gathering and intervention to reduce risk and cost in the global offshore energy market   
  • military applications include improved mine hunting, surveillance and reconnaissance capability improved integration and effectiveness of cargo and passenger transport.   
However, maritime autonomous operation does present specific challenges, including:  
  • safety  
  • communications  
  • endurance  
  • operations in a harsh environment  
  • safe navigation  
  • launch and recovery.   
The UK has a global reputation for competitive products and services in the autonomous technology field, including a number of leading remotely operated vehicle and component manufacturers.  
International competition is strong and UK companies must continually innovate to meet increasing global demand.  


This competition will fund projects aimed  at the optimisation or development of robust and reliable technologies to  enhance the safe operation of unmanned  underwater vehicles (UUVs) and/or unmanned surface vehicles (USVs), operating either singly or in groups. This could include, but is not limited to:   
Safety of operation  
  • collision avoidance, focused on situational awareness, hazard detection/recognition, robust avoidance reactions including logical appearance to other vessels, and safe surfacing for UUVs   
  • reliable operation within, and reaction to, changing environmental conditions, for example, sea state, weather and tidal streams   
  • reaction to system failures  
  • reduction in the loading on operators, noting the importance of human factors  
  • operation, including docking, in confined waters in the presence of manned craft.   
Physical security  
  • anti-tamper design  
  • data security as specific to the requirements of maritime operations.   
Endurance at higher speed (indicative speeds are 10-20 knots for USVs and 4-6 knots for UUVs)   
  • improved energy density  
  • developments in energy harvesting  
  • energy management specific to maritime autonomous operation  
  • low power demand systems providing significant vessel endurance  
  • technologies to assist longer term operation, such as automated  maintenance and fouling control.   
Deployment and recovery   
  • launch and recovery of unmanned systems, at sea, from non-specialist manned vessels with limited deck space and no stern ramp   
  • launch and recovery of UUVs, at sea, from USVs   
  • developments in underwater and above water docking stations with functions including battery charging and data transmission.   
Projects must demonstrate technologies that deliver significant improvements compared to current best available technologies.   
A number of the challenges outlined here are unique to the marine environment or require specific solutions to operate effectively in that environment. However, certain technologies have reached a higher level of development in other sectors and we would like to see cross-sector knowledge transfer to prove these technologies in the maritime environment.
The projects should include research or critical investigation aimed at acquiring knowledge and skills to develop new products, processes or services or for bringing about a significant improvement in those already available. The projects should be a catalyst for marketable solutions and enable business- led innovation to bridge the gap between academia and business. Each project should consider carefully how any intellectual property is handled and secured within the UK.   

Looking for partners to   work on your project?   

Go to _connect to find collaborators and networks. See the Maritime Autonomous Systems Initiative group.   

Funding allocation and project details

We have allocated up to £5m to fund collaborative R&D projects that address the technical challenges outlined in the  scope.   
Successful applicants can attract grant funding towards their eligible project costs. The percentage of costs that we pay varies, depending on the type of research being carried out and the type of organisation involved.   
For this competition projects must be business-led and collaborative. They should last between 12 and 36 months. We are primarily seeking to fund industrial research with a business partner attracting 50% public funding for their project costs (60% for SMEs). We expect projects to range in size from £500k to £1.5m. We may consider larger projects but applicants should contact us directly to discuss further before making their application.   
We expect that the competition funding will encourage a greater collaboration between academia and business, develop supply chains within the industry and enable cross-sector knowledge transfer.   
The funding is expected to encourage the transfer of innovation from civil to defence applications and vice versa. Overall, we will be seeking to fund a balanced portfolio of projects. 
Each partner in a collaborative R&D project can receive funding towards their project costs - the funding is a percentage of the total eligible project costs and varies, depending on the type of organisation and the type of research. See general guidance on how projects are funded.

Application process

This is a two-stage competition that opens for applicants on 13 October 2014.   

Stage 1   

Applicants submit an expression of interest which is assessed.   

Stage 2   

We invite selected applicants to submit an application.   
All applicants must first register via our website by noon 19 November 2014. The deadline for expressions of interest is noon 26 November 2014.   
The second stage deadline for invited applications is noon 4 February 2015.   
Applications are assessed on individual merit by an independent panel of experts.  
We may apply a portfolio approach across the themes/areas involved.  A briefing for potential applicants will be held in London on 15 October 2014 to highlight the main features of the competition and explain the application process. 
Applicants are strongly recommended to attend this event.   
Note: All deadlines are at noon.   

Key dates

  • Competition opens: 13 October 2014
  • Competition briefing: 15 October 2014
  • Registration deadline: 19 November 2014 (noon)
  • Expressions of interest (EOI) deadline: 26 November 2014 (noon)
  • Stage 2 opens for invited applicants: 15 December 2014
  • Deadline for invited applications: 4 February 2015 (noon)

More information

To apply you must first register with us through the competition page on the website. Registration opens when the competition opens and closes a week before the deadline for applications.   


As part of the application process all applicants are asked to submit a public description of the project. This should adequately describe the project but not disclose any information that may impact on intellectual property, is confidential or commercially sensitive. 
The titles of successful projects, names of organisations, amounts awarded and the public description will be published once the decision to offer an award has been communicated to applicants by email. Information about unsuccessful project applications will remain confidential and will not be made public.   
Email pressoffice@innovateuk.gov.uk with any queries.