Surface SPECTRE – Developed for Unmanned Surface Vehicles

The SPECTRE remote control autopilot for surface craft (RCAS) was the first system approved for unmanned operation in UK coastal waters by the UK Maritime Coastguard Agency. Based on the proven SPECTRE autopilot board, it is available as a turnkey system suitable for Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USV) and a wide range of autonomous and remotely controlled surface craft. It offers additional functionality including interfacing with navigation systems and with engine and throttle control.

The standard system is configured to control a craft with a single engine via a standard electronic throttle actuator and hydraulic steering pump, but is designed to be easily reconfigurable to meet the needs of a variety of craft. It can be paired with a robust and waterproof SPECTRE Remote Joystick, that allows remote control typically up to a range of 400m.

Case study: Fast-track control solution for multi-role USV design

The SPECTRE autopilot provides

  • Advanced, self-tuning autopilot control modes, including heading, track and hover / dynamic positioning, to minimise operator workload
  • Remote controlled operation
  • Fail safe watchdog
  • Fully autonomous operation
  • Collision avoidance
  • Autonomous with capability for operator intervention
  • Covert mode – zero command link transmissions
  • Proprietary Spectre Secure Serial Communications Protocol (SSSCP), or NMEA type interface
  • Engine monitoring
  • Ignition control (remote start/stop)
  • Control of auxiliary systems (PTZ camera, transponders etc)
  • Multiple serial connection: 5 for MicroSPECTRE, 10 for SPECTRE 2
  • Analogue inputs and outputs
  • Digital inputs and outputs
  • Control of power for external devices with intelligent power monitoring and overload tripping via Power Management Modules (PMMs)
  • Single or twin engine control, including propellers and waterjets
  • Electric DC brushed and brushless motor control
  • Control of hydraulic or electric servo steering
  • Docking joystick – direct control of the boat via a dedicated radio modem – makes it easier and safer to bring the boat into dock with inch precision
  • Control over Iridium Satellite Communications
  • Compatible with our Datalogger that can log from serial ports, analogue inputs, and digital inputs measuring states or pulses
Dynautics Spectre autopilot module for unmanned surface vehicles
Dynautics Spectre Remote Joystick for unmanned surface vehicles

The module shown, above the Remote Joystick, is a designed to fit into a typical RHIB or small patrol boat.  Seven MIL-C connectors are used for serial, analogue and digital I/O signals including the command datalink; control signals for an Electronic Throttle Unit (MHK NEC KE5+), ignition control, front panel and steering control signals.

Other formats are available for smaller craft such as small electric riverine and reservoir survey vehicles.

Typical applications are vehicles up to 15 metres in length, at speeds ranging from less than 1 kt to over 50 kts. Performance is limited primarily by the ability of the vehicle’s own navigational sensors to operate correctly at high speeds, and the performance of the vehicle itself.

The application shown here is a survelliance RHIB operated by NURC.

To facilitate the operation of Unmanned Surface Vehicles, SPECTRE processor has the ability to communicate, using a remote control protocol, across a radio link or some other remote signalling system. The SPECTRE system provides the additional circuitry for controlling the hydraulic steering pumps and electronic throttle, as well as the navigational sensor suite and the ignition and starter circuitry. Remote control of additional channels, for example cameras, is provided. Safety cut-outs and fail-safe operation are included.

survelliance RHIB operated by NURC utalizing Surface Spectre

High speed operations

SPECTRE is equipped with advanced sensor datafusion and adaptive autopilot algorithms which aid stability at high speed. Agile craft such as RHIBs have a tendency to begin “snaking” when the autopilot is engaged at high speed, especially when following waypoints. SPECTRE’s advanced adaptive algorithms are able to overcome these issues, resulting in a straight track with no significant oscillation.

Potential applications include:

  • Surveillance: the autopilot controls the vessel to follow a pre-defined track within the survey area, while payload instruments are employed, for instance, side-scan sonar, visual/infrared imagery. The SPECTRE autopilot autonomously navigates the craft, while the command link is used to communicate with the payload sensors or the autopilot may be pre-programmed to switch on instruments at specific way-points. The system provides command and control channels for remote control and monitoring the payload.
  • Remote controlled mine hunting: the SPECTRE autopilot is ideally suited to control the vessel at low speeds and in hover manoeuvres while payload instruments are deployed. A special mode controls the vehicle to stay on a fixed station relative to the host ship and can be used to scan the area ahead of a warship under way.
  • Target and target towing: the autopilot can be fitted either to the target itself or to a towing vessel. The proven SPECTRE technology can control a light craft at towing speeds, and the compass stabilisation technology allows the autopilot to maintain heading even in significant sea states.