The future of maritime autonomous vehicles

Autonomous road vehicles have been grabbing headlines as technology advances and manufacturers develop prototypes. But quietly, other industries have been making strides, including marine autonomous transport in the maritime sector.

In the Marine Autonomous Next-gen Transport Application (MANTA) project we looked at the challenges and opportunities presented by combining autonomous technology with water-based transport for local travel.


Autonomous and unmanned vessels have been in use for a number of years, to perform operations where having an on-board crew could limit those operations. Examples include extended oceanographic surveying missions either on the surface or sub-surface or for deployment in military operations.

Similarly, many marine voyages cross vast oceans which can last weeks at a time, and here increasingly sophisticated automated control systems are supporting crews on voyages thereby reducing the total numbers of crew required.

Marine autonomous transport may also open up new opportunities for mobility. Coastal cities and those intersected by significant bodies of water often suffer from congestion caused by bottlenecks and natural funnelling of vehicles on roads.

In addition to increased travel times, congestion often results in poorer air quality. If autonomous technology can be developed to support small passenger vessels in inland or coastal waters, small fleets of on-demand marine autonomous transport may reduce the burden on road-based travel, offering faster and more direct routes in towns and cities intersected by significant bodies of water.


The Connected Places Catapult undertook a feasibility study for a fleet of electric and autonomous on-demand water taxis, considering the user needs, the economic model, and the safety considerations for such a service. Nominally, an autonomous water taxi service serving Southampton and surrounding towns was evaluated, but conceptually this model could be applied to many cities worldwide where significant bodies of water place a considerable burden on land-based travel modes.

Through this work, the Connected Places Catapult are seeking to support the development of world-leading technologies, including marine autonomous transport, which will make an impact how live and transit around our future cities.

MANTA Summary Report
File Type: pdfFile size: 2.2MB