School of Engineering, Computing and Mathematics

MSc Autonomous Systems

Autonomous systems will increasingly be adopted into every aspect of our daily lives. The future of autonomy, in the transport sector alone, is projected to grow tenfold to over US$550 billion by 2026. Plymouth is fast becoming a global centre for excellence in marine and robotic autonomy systems development. You will have the opportunity to use our specialist laboratories including the COAST and Robotics Laboratory for your dissertation.

Our one year course covers core principles of this emerging field: sensor technologies for machine perception; machine learning and AI for adaptation and decision making; embedded systems, communications, security and data management, for safe and efficient operations of an Autonomous System. The course also encompasses general ethical issues related to the societal acceptance of these systems. The course has been designed in conjunction with employers who contribute seminars and guest lectures.

Find out more about your eligibility for a postgraduate loan

You may now be eligible for a government loan of over £11,000 to help towards the cost of your masters degree.

Find out more about your eligibility for a postgraduate loan

Careers with this subject

MSc Autonomous Systems will equip you with theoretical and practical skills and enable you to pursue your career in wide selection of industries: defence, health, policing, automobiles, robotics, marine and aircraft industries, e-commerce and financial services.

Key features

  • Unique programme providing strong skill sets both in marine and robotic autonomy.
  • Taught by world-leading experts from the Autonomous Marine Systems (AMS) Research Group, the Centre for Robotics and Neural Systems (CRNS), the Maritime Cyber Threats Research Group and the Big Data Group.
  • Keep you updated with the latest development in artificial intelligence techniques and their application in autonomy - our seminars series with speakers from industry and academia gives you the opportunity to keep ahead in this fast moving field.
  • Guest lectures from the key people in industries working in autonomy, for example: Thales, Metalectrique Battery Systems, Dynautics (H-Scientific), Sonardyne, MSubs, Furgo, PML, NOC, Babcock International, ORE catapult, Teledyne e2v, Seiche Ltd to provide real contacts and share their experiences.
  • Provision to work on Industry-based autonomous systems projects with the potential for laboratory and test facility support.

Course details

  • Year 1
  • The MSc in Autonomous Systems builds on our research expertise and practical capability to develop innovative solutions for autonomous operations to devise a timely and relevant master’s level programme that is attractive to industry partners and potential students alike. The core of the new programme will be in the 'techno-scientific' knowledge domain of autonomous systems operating on land, marine or aerial environments and will be aimed at those who wish to develop the specialist knowledge and skills necessary to design and develop autonomous systems. This will be one of first multi-disciplinary programmes in the School of Engineering and will consist of 120 credits of taught modules and 60 credits of dissertation project. Project subjects can be based on personal interests or taken from those suggested by external partners.

    Core modules
    • ENGR501 Engineering Research Methods and Professional Development

      You will use a methodical approach to engineering research that helps identify and define projects that are practically realistic and academically worthwhile. You will plan your research project and select ethically suitable quantitative and qualitative research methods. Your progression towards professional registration will be appraised and plans made for your personal development.

    • MATH501 Modelling and Analytics for Data Science

      This module gives students an understanding of modelling and analytics techniques for Data Science. It supplies modern data modelling tool boxes for making strategic decisions in a broad range of Business related practical situations. It offers a hands-on introduction to Bayesian inference and machine learning. It provides additional practice in making professional presentations.

    • MECH544 Data Processing, Simulation and Optimisation of Engineering Systems

      Data Processing part of the module explores the benefits and limitations of data processing in engineering practice. State of the art tools and techniques will be introduced in this module. Simulation and Optimisation of Engineering Systems part will provide the tools to enable the students to develop dynamic simulation of engineering systems, predict their behaviour and optimise their performance using MATLAB/Simulink.

    • MECH554 Introduction to Autonomous Systems

      This module will develop knowledge and understanding of data analysis, networking, communication and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies and will explore the benefits of these in autonomous systems. Practical sessions will develop appropriate software skills. The module will include guest lectures and a field visit to an autonomy related manufacturer for demonstrations in their test site and R&D laboratories.

    • PROJ517 MSc Dissertation

      You will demonstrate practical skills and knowledge of research methods to plan and implement high quality research. You will carry out a substantial research investigation on a topic of your choice and report upon the aims, methodology, data analysis, interpretation, synthesis, and conclusions through a high quality, scholarly and professional write-up of the project, either as a formal dissertation or journal paper.

    • ROCO508Z Intelligent Sensors and Control for Autonomous Systems

      The module covers a range of classical and smart sensors and actuators, which can be applied in interactive and automated system, with emphasis on several key sensors. This module introduces the basic and advanced concepts of linear and nonlinear modelling analysis and design of intelligent control systems. This module has a strong hands-on component.

Every postgraduate taught course has a detailed programme specification document describing the programme aims, the programme structure, the teaching and learning methods, the learning outcomes and the rules of assessment.

The following programme specification represents the latest programme structure and may be subject to change:

MSc Autonomous Systems programme specification 6758

The modules shown for this course or programme are those being studied by current students, or expected new modules. Modules are subject to change depending on year of entry.

Entry requirements

We expect students to have achieved at least a 2.2 or equivalent in their undergraduate degree in engineering, mathematics, robotics, marine, computing and physical science-related subjects.

Applicants with overseas qualifications can check their comparability with the UK equivalent through NARIC, which provides an advisory service.

We welcome applicants with international qualifications. To view other accepted qualifications please refer to our tariff glossary.

If your first language is not English then evidence of English proficiency is required. The level of proficiency that is required can vary with the type of programme for which you are applying. For further advice on the appropriateness of overseas qualification and proficiency in the use of English, please contact our International Office.

The minimum IELTS score for acceptable English proficiency for entry is normally 6.5 with scores of 5.5 in all elements.

Fees, costs and funding

EU applicants should refer to our dedicated Brexit webpage for details of the implications of the UK’s plans to leave the European Union.

New Student 2020 2021
Home £7,800 £9,100
International £11,800 £16,200
Part time (Home) £450 £450
Full time fees shown are per annum. Part time fees shown are per 10 credits. Please note that fees are reviewed on an annual basis. Fees and the conditions that apply to them shown in the prospectus are correct at the time of going to print. Fees shown on the web are the most up to date but are still subject to change in exceptional circumstances. For more information about fees and funding please visit www.plymouth.ac.uk/money.

Alumnus loyalty reward for postgraduate study

The University applies a discretionary alumnus reward where alumni meet certain criteria on particular postgraduate taught courses.

  • A 20 per cent discount on home tuition fees.
  • Or a £2,000 discount on international tuition fees.
  • A 10 per cent alumni discount is available on the following programmes: MSc Advanced Psychology, MSc Clinical Psychology, MSc/PgDip Psychology and MSc Occupational Therapy.

For further details, programme exclusions and contact information, please see our alumnus discount policy.

Postgraduate scholarships for international students

We offer several scholarships for international students who wish to study postgraduate taught (PGT) degree programmes.

Find out about the postgraduate scholarships available to you as an international student

How to apply

When to apply

Most of our taught programmes begin in September. Applications can usually be made throughout the year, and are considered until programmes are full. 

Before you apply

Familiarise yourself with the information required to complete your application form. You will usually be required to supply:
  • evidence of qualifications (degree certificates or transcripts), with translations if not in English, to show that you meet, or expect to meet the entry requirements
  • evidence of English language proficiency, if English is not your first language
  • a personal statement of approximately 250-400 words about the reasons for your interest in the course and outlining the nature of previous and current related experience. You can write this into the online application form, or include it as a separate document
  • your curriculum vitae or résumé, including details of relevant professional/voluntary experience, professional registration/s and visa status for overseas workers
  • proof of sponsorship, if applicable.
If you require further information take a look at our application guidance.

Disability services

If you have a disability and would like further information about the support provided by University of Plymouth, please visit our Disability Services website. 

International students

Support is also available to overseas students applying to the University from our International Office via our how to apply webpage or email international-admissions@plymouth.ac.uk.

Submitting an application

Once you are happy that you have all of the information required you can apply using our online postgraduate application form (the blue 'Apply now' icon on this page).

What happens after I apply?

You will normally receive a decision on your application within four weeks of us receiving your application. You may be asked to provide additional information; two academic/professional references, confirming your suitability for the course; or to take part in an interview (which in the case of overseas students may be by telephone or video conference) and you will be sent a decision by letter or email.

We aim to make the application procedure as simple and efficient as possible. Our Admissions and Course Enquiries team is on hand to offer help and can put you in touch with the appropriate faculty if you wish to discuss any programme in detail.

If you would like any further information please contact the Admissions and Course Enquiries team:

Telephone: +44 (0)1752 585858
Email: admissions@plymouth.ac.uk 

Admissions policy

More information and advice for applicants can be referenced by downloading our Student Admissions Policy Prospective students are advised to read the policy before making an application to the University.

  • 6 Autonomous systems will increasingly be adopted into every aspect of our daily lives.
  • @ The University has recently expanded its fleet of autonomous vehicles.
  • < The Autonomous Marine Systems (AMS) Research Group is globally recognised for developments in artificial intelligence (AI), optimisation techniques and advanced control systems.


Head of Innovation, Engineering Services | Marine & Technology from Babcock International Group indicated the importance of autonomous systems 

As Babcock continues to pursue its digital agenda through its iSupport360 programme, remote and autonomous systems can be used to deliver tangible improvements in programme planning, material state understanding, operational efficiencies and safety”.


Steve Pascoe

<p>Springer's first open water trials,&nbsp;Autonomous Marine Systems<br></p>
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GummiArm robot, a robot used for teaching robotics and research

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Full Mission Bridge Simulator, Marine Navigation Centre

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Springer autonomous vehicle

Marine autonomous systems

For transport alone, the global autonomous vehicle market size is projected to grow tenfold to over $550 billion by 2026. Large scale adoption is also being forecast for marine autonomous systems, with the cost and safety advantages for unmanned data collection thanks to lower costs and improved safety. New surface and underwater vehicles being used in oil and gas, offshore renewable energy and other emerging offshore industries.

Plymouth Sound 

With its strong maritime heritage, the City of Plymouth is a major focus for companies at the forefront of autonomous system design and development. Companies including MSubs, Seiche and the Thales Marine Autonomy Centre are here in the city, with these and other leading developers making use of the accessible waters of the Plymouth Sound to demonstrate the systems of tomorrow.

View from Plymouth Sound from Mount Edgcumbe

New book on marine autonomous vehicles

Associate Professor (Reader) in Intelligent Autonomous Control Systems Dr Sanjay Sharma has edited Navigation and Control of Autonomous Marine Vehicles, recently published by The Institution of Engineering and Technology. The book covers the current state of research in navigation, modelling and control of marine autonomous vehicles and is aimed at researchers, academics and postgraduate students interested in autonomous marine vessels, robotics, and electrical and automobile engineering.

More information on the book

Dr Sanjay Sharma

Work-based degrees and higher apprenticeships

Do you want your business to remain competitive? Do you need support with succession planning? Do you want to fill skills gaps? And retain the best talent?

We understand the difficulties some employers have in developing and retaining highly skilled employees. Designed by employers for employers, our work-based degree apprenticeships and higher apprenticeships address skills gaps, staff retention issues and support succession planning.

Our Postgraduate Engineer Degree Apprenticeship Level 7 will start in September 2020.

Athena Swan Bronze

The School of Engineering, Computing and Mathematics was awarded an Athena Swan Bronze award in October 2020 which demonstrates our ongoing commitment to advancing gender equality and success for all.

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