For us, it is driving to the data with an operator that doesn’t miss something or fall asleep. We have focused for years now on GPS Denied and -C2 (negative or no Command & Control) operations, as the logistical resources for manned-unmanned deployments are prohibitive.
And, sometimes the ‘roomba mode’, where we just wander until we find something interesting, provides the best overall picture of what is happening.
So, we began focusing on data-centric logic in our control theories. If we can pull data from our sensors into the navigational logic, then we can perform simple rule-based autonomy from there.
Have the USV conduct a surface water quality profile along the WP route (or grid). If the indicated parameters (say Chlorophyll A, temperature, 1m current direction & velocity, and DO) exceed threshold values, position keep and conduct a vertical profile. If the vertical profile indicates a thermocline with different variables, launch ROV and conduct a sinusoidal vertical profile from new WP1 to WP2 along the predominant subsurface current heading.
We can do all of this today, but it does not use AI as most people want to believe. I don’t think we are even close to that yet, as I would have no idea how to train the algorithm. We can, however, stack a bunch of rules into a flow program and conduct a mission. Think of those like macros or scripts. And, each macro can call on another - sort of like we do in CNC.
Today we can pull over 1000 parameters (water quality, Wx, physical, navigational, performance) into this logic - depending on the types of sensors installed. That was a lot of work and required a ton of code to translate sometimes proprietary vehicle CAN or sensor messages into a common format.
So, to really answer your question - why do we need autonomy in the first place? To create a force multiplier and find the data of interest so we can make new and informed regulation, compliance levels, reclamation, and restoration.
We are also very interested in marsupialism and further increasing the old ‘swarming’ concepts in autonomy.