• Bob the Bluebottle on Lake Burley Griffin. Credit: Ocius
    Bob the Bluebottle on Lake Burley Griffin. Credit: Ocius

How do you get bluebottles in Canberra’s Lake Burley Griffin? When Ocius Technologies bring them to town for a demo.

Both Bob and Bruce, Ocius’ Bluebottle class of unmanned surface vessels (USVs), were on deck in the nation’s capital in the wake of their recent successful trial off the coast of Ulladulla in NSW. The trial saw the pair of USVs complete six weeks of endurance and intelligent networking trials in a designated Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) approved ‘box’ off the NSW coast.

“The ability to monitor large swathes of ocean for a disruptively low cost is what we do,” Ocius founder and CEO Robert Dane said at the demonstration, saying that the data and learnings of the trial are being reflected on now.

The pair of Bluebottle class USVs have evolved significantly over the past few years, having begun life in 2015 as a Capability Technology Demonstrator program. This proved a significant contract and Ocius with partner Thales Australia developed the 18' prototype 'Bruce' for anti-submarine warfare (ASW), which was demonstrated to Navy in August 2017.

In September 2018, Ocius was awarded its second defence contract under the Defence Innovation Hub to build an intelligent “Command and Control (C2) network” of persistent unmanned surface vessels.

In November 2019 Bruce participated in the Autonomous Warrior War games in Jervis Bay. Due to extreme weather Bruce was often the only USV operating. Ocius' intelligent C2 system was used to control another Navy WAMV catamaran and two DSTG UUVs.

The rainy and sometimes snowy Canberra conditions this week were no trouble for the pair of solar powered vessels, with Bruce still managing to charge at 90 watts despite the weather conditions.

“We have an EO camera, weather, water, depth, temperature, speed and Thales’ thin line array in the water today,” Ocius’ chief Engineer Lloyd Breckenridge explained to ADM at the demonstration.

Thales Australia, building on their 30-year pedigree of underwater sensors and related IP in Australia, has been working with Ocius on both passive and active sonar technologies on the Bluebottles. The thin line array is mounted on the rear of the keel, with a winch now integrated onto the vessel.

“We’re looking at complimentary technology where Thales has been working for some time,” Gary Dawson, Thales Australia’s Vice President said, as the company is part of the Trusted Autonomous Systems CRC.

Commander Paul Hornsby, Navy’s lead for autonomous warfare systems was also enthusiastic about the system that had performed so well at Exercise Autonomous Warrior last year. He cited the fact that the demonstration was an opportunity to show people what Navy can do in this space.

“We need to take the Australian public with us on this journey,” he said. “We can do it and we’re good at it. Unmanned technologies are core to a balanced and comprehensive Navy and are part of the national shipbuilding effort.”

Commander Hornsby also confirmed to ADM that the next itineration of Exercise Autonomous Warrior is being worked by Navy right now. He is hoping to see more air, sea and ground elements involved in the next event in the series to demonstrate the networked and manned/unmanned teaming sides of the technology space.

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