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UK government makes inroads in maritime autonomy

The Maritime Future Technologies team has been formed to facilitate trials of innovative approaches and support regulatory updates

The UK government has reported progress in its work around autonomous shipping, as the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) has launched the Maritime Future Technologies team.

This builds on the MCA’s Maritime Autonomy Regulation Lab (MARLab), an organisation launched in 2018 with £1m from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s (BEIS) Regulators’ Pioneer Fund.

The MFT team was set up to facilitate the implementation of trials and projects around maritime autonomy, support regulatory updates and push industry adoption of innovative technologies in emission reduction and autonomy.

According to the MCA, the new team will be the interface between the agency and industry for specific projects, providing the facilitation and support elements to businesses working on Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) projects. The goal is to help companies successfully get their projects on the water with suitable certification.

Various adjacent markets, such as automotive and aerospace, are being analysed to understand how other sector regulators approach autonomy, the MCA said, the goal being to increase productivity and operations and decrease unnecessary costs to the business. One industry the MFT is looking into is unmanned air systems in civil aerospace.

In addition, the MFT has appointed stakeholder managers, who will be tasked with developing collaborations and engagement with businesses, academia and other government bodies.

Based at the the Marine Robotics Innovation Centre in Southampton, the MFT’s predecessor MARLab was set up with the goal of pioneering new ways of regulating the autonomous and smart shipping industries, and to help them deliver innovative new technologies to the so-called “traditional” maritime sector.

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As well as reviewing key legislation relevant to the current industry projects, MARLab also explored the use of shared government data in driving innovation in maritime autonomy in the UK. To that end, an online platform was developed by partners Solis Marine Consultants and Maritrace, to give industry access to a range of MCA, UK Hydrographic Office and Met Office data.

In addition, the MARLab project has also seen joint work with academia and support to businesses to promote on-water testing and projects growing the UK presence in the global maritime autonomy marketplace.

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