News from our Members and Partners

06 January 2021

Marine Autonomy Challenge goes Totally Remote for 2021

Developing the UK’s Future Marine Autonomy Technologists

We are excited to announce that SMI’s Marine Autonomy Challenge for University teams will be run in a totally remote mode for 2021, with a top prize of £2,000 available for the wining team. The MA Challenge is part of an ongoing engagement initiative between the maritime autonomous systems industry and future marine autonomy technologists. To increase participation, and achieve the goals of engagement with the students, the steering group decided to make the challenge remote for 2021. 

The aim for the Marine Autonomy Challenge 2020 was to bring together the country’s future technology innovators to build, share, and distribute knowledge, and collaboratively develop solutions to one of the planet’s most pressing environmental challenges – Ocean Plastics. The plan was to test those solutions for real in an on-water competition in June 2020. Clearly, due to the national lockdowns and Covid-19 restrictions it was necessary to postpone the challenge until 2021. With the ongoing nature of these restrictions and many uncertainties, the decision has been made to adapt the competition scope in order to hold a remote event towards the end of 2021.

Following a review of the arrangements in the light of Covid-19 restrictions, Geraint West, Chairman of the organising committee and Global Business Manager at Sonardyne International says:

“As we adapt our working patterns and lifestyles to cope with the Covid-19 crisis, so too must we adapt the SMI’s Marine Autonomy Challenge. Inevitably, it has been necessary to postpone the on-water competition until next year, but we’re committed to bringing it back next year; bigger and better with a real-life challenge of operating truly remotely.”

The organising committee are currently developing a new scope, which will use the vessels already built, but test the teams’ capabilities to design a solution for operating these totally remotely. Not only does this reflect the practical restrictions that Covid-19 imposes but will reinforce the challenge’s aim of focussing participants on autonomous operations. Last year’s finalists will be offered automatic entry, with additional places up for grabs in Marine Autonomy Challenge 2021.

The Marine Autonomy Challenge is supported by the University of Southampton, National Oceanography Centre, Steatite Batteries and EP Barrus, with sponsorship from member companies of the Society of Maritime Industries (sponsors to be confirmed for 2021).



Maritime Autonomous Systems (MAS) are of increasing importance to a wide range of sectors, including marine science, offshore resource exploitation, maritime transport and defence and maritime security operations.  The UK is a technology leader in this area and the Maritime Autonomous Systems Group (MASG) Council of the Society of Maritime Industries (SMI) aims to enhance this reputation and encourage development and take-up of MAS technologies in the UK.  The Maritime Autonomous Systems Group (MASG) Council sets the policy and guides the activities for this market area, utilising the extensive expertise of its council members.

A key part of the MASG Council’s mission is to encourage young technologists to help them develop careers that contribute to the future of the UK’s MAS industry.

The Marine Autonomy Challenge is aiming to highlight the opportunities in the maritime autonomous systems industry and provide a focus for the future innovators that will drive the industry to the next level. 

The focus of the 2021 competition is the identification and removal of plastic from the ocean environment.

Teams will be provided with a common platform and propulsion equipment and asked to design and build an autonomous control system to navigate a series of specified tasks. Demonstration of this capability will to be tested during the finals.

The Marine Autonomy Challenge is focussed on the autonomy of the platform (irrespective of whether it is an underwater or surface vehicle), not the platform itself.

The objectives of Marine Autonomy Challenge are:

  • To stretch the knowledge of the students and promote creative thinking;
  • Encourage team working through a variety of individual skills; and
  • Connect the brightest young talent coming through the UK’s universities with the UK’s MAS Industry.

These objectives can still be achieved by adapting the competition for next year to a virtual format and evolving the challenge based on the maturity of the solutions presented in the July webinar and sharing of ideas.

A prize of £2,000 awaits the winning team next year. 

The competition is a team event.  Teams are to be five strong and must be affiliated to a UK university.

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