Plymouth Pioneers: Dr Sanjay Sharma: Advancing marine autonomy through AI

Dr Sanjay Sharma, Associate Professor in Intelligent Autonomous Control Systems, is one of the UK’s foremost innovators in applying autonomous technology in the marine environment. He leads the University’s Autonomous Marine Systems Research Group, which focuses on application of AI techniques to the navigation, guidance and control of autonomous vehicles, wave energy devices and marine propulsion systems.

Applying artificial intelligence to marine environments

For the last 15 years Sanjay has been instrumental in adapting emerging technologies, particularly sensors and optimisation technology, for marine and maritime purposes. In response to the need for unmanned surface vessels in areas without satellite coverage, he has applied concepts such as digital twinning, simultaneous localisation and mapping (SLAM), swarm robotics, and human teaming to marine environments.

Sanjay has led developments of a navigation, guidance and control system that can be installed on unmanned surface vehicles for cutting-edge hydrographic surveys and data collection, in cost-effective and environmentally friendly ways. His research in autonomous technology can be used to maintain offshore wind farms and could open up the possibility of providing consistent and reliable maintenance in challenging marine conditions. Benefits of this approach can be seen in Sanjay’s current work in supporting sustainable management of deep-sea fisheries in the central Indian Ocean by carrying out capacity building and pump-priming activities, in an initiative focused on using technology for an ecosystem-based, data-driven approach that would benefit coastal communities in India and Sri Lanka.

Thought leadership

Robot ships are ready, but are we?

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Autonomy in the deep sea, offshore wind farm and global platforms

Sanjay is co-ordinating training for Meteorological and Oceanographic officers as part of the £4 million project UAE Ocean, which delivers ocean forecasting capability to the United Arab Emirates. This work will empower the UAE with scientific capacity that is not currently available there.

He has prominent roles on a number of bodies including in the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, the UK Automatic Control Council and a member of the Intelligent Autonomous Vehicles group within the International Federation of Automatic Control.

The person behind the pioneer

“The biggest challenge we face is not just to develop autonomous technology but to convince people it is safe.”

Read more about Dr Sanjay Sharma

Marine autonomy does not have as many constraints as there are on land, however there are still challenges to overcome to make the most of current and future opportunities.

One of the key factors in all autonomous technology is that it can operate for long periods without the need for pausing. Through the application of machine learning and fuzzy logic, we are generating a host of new and more reliable opportunities.

Dr Sanjay Sharma

Home of marine

Our marine and maritime excellence in world-leading research informs policy agendas for the sustainable management of ocean resources. Our work has significantly improved how to forecast extreme coastal events and their impact on communities. We were the first to study the ecological effects of ocean acidification, and now lead the UK agenda for offshore renewable energy. On national and international levels, we have influenced key policies, conservation practices, responses to climate change, public perception of marine issues, and are defining the pathways toward tangible solutions.
The culture of close collaboration across the city with researchers, policymakers, and local businesses has resulted in Plymouth’s nomination for the UK’s first National Marine Park – an initiative underpinned by research at the University.
Underwater bubbles