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UK MoD Funds Rolls-Royce Development of Artificial Chief Engineer

16-month Programme to Investigate Effective Human-AI Collaboration

The British MoD’s Defence and Security Accelerator (DSA) has funded Rolls-Royce continued development of the Artificial Chief Engineer (ACE) technology – an autonomous machinery control system which allows naval vessels to undertake long endurance missions with less human interaction, the company announced on 25 February.

ACE is a critical enabler for autonomous missions, acting as the equivalent of the engineering department responsible for the health and the operation of an unmanned vessel’s machinery. Navies intend to increase their use of optionally-manned and unmanned vessels to project power further for less cost by reducing reliance on manpower, allowing higher-risk or longer-endurance missions, and by lowering the procurement and operating costs of future platforms.

The funding has been awarded under the DSA’s Intelligent Ship Phase Two programme, which is used to de-risk and evaluate technologies and approaches to enhance the armed forces’ technical advantage. Rapid growth in automation, autonomy, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) has prompted the need to investigate how human-machine teaming can effectively take place. This 16-month programme aims to investigate how effective human-AI collaboration can be best exploited to improve decision-making and planning within complex operating environments.

This is incredibly good news for our Artificial Chief Engineer capability, which we launched at DSEI in 2019. Our involvement in this funding programme certainly strengthens our position with the UK MoD for Unmanned Surface Vessel enablers. This funding will also increase the technical maturity of Artificial Chief Engineer for further applications across the breadth of the marine market, both naval and commercial, where we are seeing increasing levels of demand for this type of technology,” stated Ben Thorp, Programme Executive for Naval Electrical, Automation and Controls at Rolls-Royce Defence.

ACE is an on-board, secure, decision-making control system designed to intelligently operate the machinery of lean-manned and unmanned naval vessels. The technology makes condition-based decisions about how best to operate the machinery – including the engines, propulsion system, electrical network and fuel system – using algorithms to optimise the ship for maximum efficiency, lowest noise, top speed or to preserve damaged equipment as required by the ship’s mission. This reduces the workload of remote operators and allows increased mission and system complexity in future unmanned ship designs.

Intelligent Ship is a Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) project to develop novel and innovative technologies and concepts to facilitate the use of intelligent systems within future platforms, with potential for use across defence. The aim is to de-risk and evaluate technologies and approaches to enable revolutionary future platform, fleet, and cross-domain concepts to enhance UK military advantage.

Wrapping around the Artificial Chief Engineer project will be Rolls-Royce’s Aletheia Framework, a ground-breaking standard it has developed to ensure that before AI is used, all ethical considerations have been fully assessed, and that once an AI is deployed, its decisions are trustworthy. The Aletheia Framework is part of a campaign led by Rolls-Royce to improve public trust in AI, so that its full potential can be realised.

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