HII Unveils “Odyssey,” Its Response to the Navy’s Call for Open Architecture Autonomy

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HII has made a name for itself building the Navy’s aircraft carriers, such as the Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78), which completed full ship crash testing last year. (Photo courtesy of the US Navy.)

WASHINGTON: Following multiple acquisitions as well as years of in-house research and development, HII has unveiled an autonomy software suite that it says can be installed on any vessel or vehicle and meets requirements that the US Navy has developed for autonomous platforms.

The Navy wants “this open framework, they want to be able to get the best […] race several different autonomy engines and put them together,” said Duane Fotheringham, an executive at HII who heads the company’s unmanned systems business unit. “It really allows us to do that. We can take each of these parts and deliver them separately as part of this framework. »

The company, which a few days ago changed its name from Huntington Ingalls Industries, announced a rebranding last week at the Sea Air Space Expo to reflect its shift in recent years from being solely a shipbuilder to more broadly a defense technology company.

Its new autonomy suite, dubbed Odyssey, directly targets the vision the Navy has set in recent years for how the service wants the industry to bring autonomous capabilities to its unmanned platforms — and in some cases, with pilot. Essentially, the company claims that Odyssey can be installed on land, sea or air platforms and prepares them to accept a variety of plug-and-play modules developed by HII, such as health monitoring and perception, or capabilities developed by a third party. .

This “plug-and-play” mentality is nearly identical to an effort led by the Navy’s program office for Maritime Unmanned Systems and dubbed the Maritime Unmanned Autonomy Architecture. Think of it as the Navy’s rulebook for how industry should develop autonomous systems.

The driving principle behind UMAA is to overcome “vendor lock-in,” the notion that if a contractor’s technology is unable to interoperate with third-party software, it forces the Navy to commit to that vendor. long term or to go elsewhere.

To explain “vendor lock-in” another way, most open source software available today is designed to run on a Microsoft Windows operating system. If you buy a computer from Apple, which has its own operating system, and you can’t run software because it’s not designed to interface with iOS, then you’re vendor locked out. .

Microsoft and Apple have become prolific enough that it’s commonplace for developers to write software that can be used on Windows or iOS, but in the niche world of highly customized, military-focused unmanned systems, standards are no match. not as prolific or clearly defined. The Navy’s UMAA is its attempt to set the standards for anyone who wants to do business with them.

The impetus for developing Odyssey, Fotheringham said, was the desire to bring together HII’s internal research with capabilities the company gained when it purchased technology companies Hydroid and Spatial Integrated Systems.

“We took all of these pieces and started putting them together,” he said.

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