A new autonomous "smart boat" is set to begin trials with the Royal Navy as the service considers whether to invest in a full fleet.
The crewless Pacific 24 boat has a control system and sensors that allow for autonomous movement, meaning that a sailor should be able to give a generic task and the boat will decide for itself how to proceed.
The project has been sponsored by NavyX, the specialist wing of the Royal Navy dedicated to trialling cutting-edge technology on the frontline, in partnership with BAE Systems.
Lieutenant Commander Rob Manson, from the NavyX team, said the boat's capability "ensures the Navy remains at the forefront of technological improvement and innovation".
"Additionally, this capability can be constantly improved, allowing continuous updates and capability upgrades, resulting in regular additions to the toolbox of operational planners," he said.
More than £3m is being invested in the crewless Pacific 24 which can operate individually or in groups, racing across the sea at speeds of up to 38 knots (nearly 44mph).
Pacific 24s have been vital to Royal Navy operations such as search and rescue, ferrying personnel, and as the springboard for commandos and sailors involved in board-and-search operations looking for drugs in the Caribbean and Middle East.
Minister for Defence Procurement Jeremy Quin said the new "smart boat" could be the answer to meeting modern challenges.
"Commencing the trials of the crewless Pacific 24 boat is an important stepping stone in the Royal Navy’s development of its autonomous capability to ensure our fleet remains at the forefront of military innovation and technology, ready to meet the evolving threats of modern warfare,” he said.
Trials begin this month, followed by integration into a frontline warship's systems later in the year.
Cover image: Pacific24 unmanned boat trials last year (Picture: Royal Navy).