Maritime Domain Awareness

Saildrone’s autonomous platforms are specially equipped to provide persistent, cost-effective solutions for real-time data acquisition to increase maritime security—expanding information and decision advantage by providing AI-enabled "eyes and ears" at sea, above and below the surface, 24/7.

Saildrone Explorer unmanned surface vehicle equipped for maritime domain awareness missions in Hawaii.
Saildrone Mission Portal provides real-time alerts during MDA missions.

A Protected Planet

Saildrone’s autonomous platforms are agile, mobile, scalable, networked, and sustainable, providing persistent, cost-effective solutions for real-time interoperable data acquisition. Our proprietary onboard machine learning algorithm fuses sensor data, recognizes targets of interest, and alerts the end-user in near real-time—the “eyes” at sea. An advanced acoustics instrument package provides the “ears” at sea.

Maritime domain awareness (MDA) is the effective understanding of anything associated with the safety and security of the global maritime domain, including but not limited to illegal fishing, drug enforcement, and intrusion into protected marine sanctuaries. New stresses on ocean regions require new solutions to improve maritime domain awareness and support intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions.

Saildrone vehicles also carry an advanced scientific sensor suite that collects oceanographic and meteorological data while on MDA missions. This data is critical for understanding the impacts of a changing climate, which are predicted to strain economies and societies worldwide and could directly affect national security.

Expanded Information and Decision Advantage

Saildrone’s technology enhances maritime security by quickly identifying actual or potential events, supporting informed decisions, enabling effective action, and sharing knowledge with appropriate partners.

AI-enabled Maritime Domain Awareness
Saildrones utilize ML/AI models running onboard GPU compute processors to deliver real-time, visual detection of targets that are otherwise not transmitting their position. These detection events are then fused with other data sources— radar, AIS, and acoustics—to deliver a fully informed picture of the surrounding maritime domain.

But how did we achieve an accurate ML model? Three years ago, we conducted experiments with key partners to determine how saildrones could aid their mission of maritime security and narcotics interdiction. While the saildrones performed well in terms of speed, endurance, and durability, our detection capability was still at a primitive stage.

We then embarked on a long R&D mission to improve our detection technology, experimenting with infrared and visible light cameras, as well as passive acoustics and radar. Using both CV and machine learning (ML) techniques for image processing, we immediately realized that there was no available data set of images of the open ocean, on which we could train models.

So we tasked our existing saildrone fleet of over 30 vehicles deployed all over the world to start taking pictures at 5-second intervals and storing these images onboard for post-mission processing. Over the next three years, we amassed tens of millions of images, which we annotated with human analysis, highlighting anything of interest in the images, vessels, birds, icebergs, etc. With this enormous data set, we trained our proprietary ML model to automatically recognize the objects in real time.

This significant investment forms the foundations of our AI-powered visual detections, which are combined with other data sources on board the vehicles to create a full picture of the maritime domain surrounding the saildrones.

Saildrone onboard artificial intelligence detects target vessels in real time
Saildrone Explorer unmanned surface vehicle equipped for maritime domain awareness missions in Hawaii.

Why Saildrone?

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Cost-effective, persistent MDA in any ocean
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24/7 autonomous operations monitoring with real-time data transmission via satellite communications
Long-term duration autonomous operations icon
Up to 365 days without returning to port for maintenance or refueling
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Reduced fuel consumption and carbon footprint
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Secure, encrypted data, vehicle to cloud
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Defense and commercial configurations available

Purpose-built Autonomous MDA Solutions

Innovative commercial technology solutions that identify, learn, and deliver critical information to keep front-line personnel safer, more effective, and one step ahead.

Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance (ISR)

Operating above and below the sea surface providing strategic observation, vehicle tracking, and communications.

Force Protection

Saildrone uncrewed surface vehicles offer enhanced threat detection for vulnerable assets.

Law Enforcement & Maritime Safety

Detection and alerting for multiple use cases including piracy, narcotics, human trafficking, or illegal fishing activities.

Ecosystem Monitoring

Oil detection and spread mitigation, monitoring activity in marine sanctuaries and protected areas.

MDA Demonstration for United States Coast Guard

In October 2020, Saildrone performed a successful 30-day proof-of-concept demonstration for the United States Coast Guard (USCG) to show how uncrewed surface vehicles (USVs) could be used to provide persistent maritime domain awareness (MDA) at sea. Six saildrones were stationed in an operating area adjacent to Penguin Bank, west of Molokai, Hawaii.

The exercise highlighted specific real-world use cases for persistent MDA: general traffic monitoring, illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing, search and patrol, and port security.

Traffic Monitoring

General traffic monitoring, with the USVs demonstrating various picket line formations, a range of detection types, and how detections are visualized. 

Illegal, Unregulated, and Unreported (IUU) fishing

Detection and tracking of vessels performing behaviors associated with IUU fishing, such as longline fishing at the edge of a restricted zone and turning off their automatic identification system (AIS), or going dark, while entering protected areas.

Search and Patrol

Search and patrol maneuvers demonstrating how the effective coverage area of fleets can be extended and the ability to find a dead-in-the-water target of interest.

Port Security

Port monitoring and surveillance showing how the USVs can augment existing surveillance systems and detect suspicious behavior near critical infrastructure.

Saildrone Vehicles

Saildrone Explorer – 7 m (22 ft) Uncrewed Surface Vehicle

The 7 m Saildrone Explorer is designed to carry a payload of sensors to collect data above and below the sea surface. A 5 m (16 ft) wing provides wind power for forward propulsion and solar panels power onboard science and navigation instruments. Saildrones can be equipped with an acoustic payload for specific mission requirements: a single-beam or multibeam sonar for bathymetry, an echo sounder for fisheries surveys, or an ADCP for current measurements.

Saildrone Explorer sensor payload

Saildrone Surveyor – 22 m (72 ft) Uncrewed Surface Vehicle

The 22 m Saildrone Surveyor is equipped with a specially built optical camera detection system with an integrated GPU processor providing 360° visibility and onboard machine learning that fuses data from onboard AIS and radar. 

This larger platform offers a wider detection range due to significantly higher placement of the sensor array—15 meters above the sea surface. With a speed of 10 knots and a range of detection of 20 nautical miles, the Saildrone Surveyor provides persistent and scalable MDA capabilities 24 hours per day in any ocean—and in any weather conditions. 

Both vehicles can be equipped with advanced acoustic technology to address sub-surface ISR objectives.

Saildrone Surveyor sensor suite

Explore Using Saildrones for Maritime Domain Awareness

Interested in exploring how autonomous technologies can help you achieve your MDA/ISR objectives to sense, decide, and act more quickly and effectively? 

Tell us about your maritime security needs and get started planning your solution today.

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