News story

Mimicking ants to develop capability of autonomous vehicles

Case study from Polaris Consulting who pitched their ideas to industry and investors at the CDE Marketplace on 6 September 2016.

Polaris Consulting Ltd

Polaris Consulting Ltd has been awarded funding for 3 Centre for Defence Enterprise (CDE) projects, including one on an optimised routing algorithm initially for use in Autonomous Surface Vehicles (ASV).

This algorithm was based on an approach called Ant Colony Optimisation (ACO), which mimics the way ants optimise their search for food.

The algorithm is capable of autonomously creating an optimal route, given just the start and end point and a map of the environment. It’s also able to dynamically reroute to avoid obstacles. This approach not only optimises for distance or speed but can balance this with risk in the environment, for example preferentially avoiding shipping lanes or areas of shallower water even though they are available for navigation.

It’s been tested and successfully demonstrated in a Shipping Simulator provided by BMT ARGOSS. A mission was demonstrated with a simulated ASV leaving Portsmouth Harbour and navigating into the Solent, avoiding all static surface obstacles (for example buoys and navigation markers) as well as 2 other boats.

The next phase of this work will look to build on the ability to deal with multiple unpredictable obstacles. This improved model will then be implemented on-board a real world ASV - a C-Worker 5 provided by ASV Ltd - for sea trials.

The ability to autonomously produce optimal routes and dynamically avoid obstacles would help ASVs in multiple defence capabilities, as well as for civilian use such as oil, gas and offshore wind industries.

David Bangert, Founder, Polaris Consulting Ltd says:

Winning funding for 3 CDE proposals has been of huge benefit to Polaris. They have enabled us to apply our analysis expertise to some cutting edge defence problems, build partnerships with other companies, and raise the profile of the business. Like most SMEs, we relish a challenge, and CDE has expanded our horizons and will undoubtedly provide us with new opportunities in the future. It’s also good to be working with like-minded partners to deliver tangible benefits for the UK’s Armed Services.

View the pitch presentation slides.

About CDE

CDE funds novel, high-risk, high-potential-benefit research. We work with the broadest possible range of science and technology providers, including academia and small companies, to develop cost-effective capabilities for UK armed forces and national security.

CDE is part of Dstl.

Centre for Defence Enterprise

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Harwell Oxford
OX11 0QX

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Published 15 August 2016