Thales has signed an agreement to collaborate with the University of Southampton (UoS) on a research project for the development of autonomous marine systems.

The five-year research partnership aims to develop maritime autonomous vehicles that could be used by the Royal Navy.

Thales and UoS will work on the development of technology, processes, and procedures required for the next generation of unmanned boats, submarines and aircraft.

Thales UK chief scientist Matt Ball told Naval Technology: “We’re excited by this new addition to our global strategic partner portfolio. It’s essential for Thales that we collaborate with the brightest people around the world to develop our future technologies and this partnership will help to address some of the key challenges we see in delivering a future capability in Maritime Autonomy.

“Our universities in the UK have world-leading academic research, experimental facilities and innovation ecosystems that make this a great place to do this kind of co-created and high impact research programme. “

The research agreement involves a common framework that can be applied to each project.

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“Our universities in the UK have world-leading academic research, experimental facilities and innovation ecosystems that make this a great place to do this kind of high impact research programme.”

This is not the first collaboration between the company and the university. Thales and the UoS have previously partnered on several projects, including experimentation with aircraft connectivity, unmanned aerial systems, and quantum navigation technology.

UoS Research and Enterprise vice-president professor Mark Spearing said: “The agreement recognises the university’s longstanding commitment to maritime activities, combined with its world-leading autonomous systems expertise.

“Thales’ focus on technology innovation, aligned with the university’s research excellence, allows us to take a collaborative approach in translating research from early discovery into the applications domain.”

Thales’ autonomous marine systems, including unmanned air vehicles and Halcyon – an autonomous boat – were recently tested by the Royal Navy.

The company noted that these vessels can be used to perform extended surveillance and life-saving mine clearance operations.

In October last year, Thales UK opened the Maritime Autonomous Systems Trials and Evaluation Centre at Turnchapel Wharf in Plymouth to expand footprint in autonomous systems.

The centre is designed to provide access to trials areas for development of maritime autonomous systems for use by the Royal Navy.

–Additional reporting by Talal Husseini.