High-Tech Navy Ship Piloted Using a Laptop and a Tablet From Ashore

The U.K.'s Royal Navy remotely operated the MADFOX (MAritime Demonstrator For Operational eXperimentation)—an autonomous vessel—for the first time this week, marking a "significant milestone" for the high-tech ship, which was unveiled in March.

The MADFOX had previously only been operated by staff aboard the ship. However, the latest test saw it controlled via "a laptop, tablet and two sailors in a tent overlooking the water" at Browndown Beach in Gosport, a coastal town in the county of Hampshire in the southeast of England, according to a statement Tuesday from the Royal Navy.

The trial tested the potential for controlling a vessel from ashore and using it to monitor shipping operations in the Solent, a strait of the English Channel situated between the coast of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight in southern England.

In a post on Twitter, the Royal Navy said: "Sailors have controlled a @RoyalNavy autonomous boat from the shore, in a milestone moment for the #MADFOX vessel. Navy's experimentation experts #Nemesis have been trialing the uncrewed boat (people are needed on board for safety) for use on future ops [operations]."

"It is hoped the vessel, and other systems like it, could deploy with Royal Navy ships in future operations, carrying out tasks from force protection to surveillance," the Royal Navy added.

While crew members were aboard as a safety measure in the latest trial, the ship's movements, speed and heading were operated remotely by sailors ashore.

The sailors learned how to interpret the live feed from the boat's sensors and cameras, including "a high-resolution zoom" device that can identify people aboard vessels at a distance.

Sailors have controlled a @RoyalNavy autonomous boat from the shore, in a milestone moment for the #MADFOX vessel. Navy's experimentation experts #Nemesis have been trialling the uncrewed boat (people are needed on board for safety) for use on future ops
🔗https://t.co/QD9UuhFiuO pic.twitter.com/K27qgfrUnO

— Royal Navy (@RoyalNavy) June 1, 2021

"The command node on land afforded an over-watch of the experimentation area. The simple set-up is itself a link to the future, where the node will be integrated into ships like the next-generation Type 26 and Type 31 frigates," the Royal Navy said.

Commander Antony Crabb, who is in charge of NavyX—the specialist team developing the latest technology for the fleet—said Tuesday: "It might seem like remote-controlled boats on a park lake, however, this is a significant milestone as navy personnel gain confidence in operating at speed and dislocated from the vessel."

"It's not what we are used to after years standing watch on board ships of the current Fleet. Lessons from these recent serials will be used to build ever more complex serials ahead of integration into Operational Experimentation activity where the project will add tactical value, helping to shape the blended Fleet of tomorrow," he added.

Newsweek has contacted the Royal Navy for further comment.

The Royal Navy's HMS Queen Elizabeth ship.
The Royal Navy's HMS Queen Elizabeth ship pictured on the Solent in Portsmouth, England in the U.K. in June 2019. The Royal Navy operated the MADFOX (MAritime Demonstrator For Operational eXperimentation), an autonomous Royal Navy vessel, remotely for the first time on Tuesday. Glyn Kirk/AFP via Getty Images