From vehicles to teams in maritime operations


“In his 1999 book The Age of Spiritual Machines, Ray Kurzweil proposed "The Law of Accelerating Returns", according to which the rate of change in a wide variety of evolutionary systems (including but not limited to the growth of technologies) tends to increase exponentially”. 

Ray Kurzweil, The Age of Spiritual Machines, Viking, 1999, 

Currently, underwater, surface, aerial, and space robotic vehicles are already providing unprecedented capabilities with a significant impact in maritime operations. But this is just the beginning. Initial progress in the field of uncrewed maritime vehicles was indeed slow, but we are now witnessing a rapid evolution of the field, driven in part by a technological push from several fields and by an operational pull from multiple applications. As an example, the REPMUS exercise, co-organized by the Portuguese Navy, Porto University, the NATO MUSI initiative and CMRE has evolved over a period of 15 years from a small regional evaluation and experimentation exercise to the largest exercise with uncrewed vehicles in the world; there were over 120 vehicles participating in the 2022 edition and the number is expected to increase in the edition of 2023.

This paper is about the challenges and opportunities associated with a change of paradigm in maritime operations: from vehicles to coordinated teams. This is discussed with reference to developments and deployments undertaken by the Underwater Systems and Technologies Laboratory (LSTS), Porto University, with special focus on advances in inter-operability and interaction among vehicles.

I will start by describing how our tools, techniques, and operational deployments have evolved over the years to introduce the background against which I will discuss future teamed behaviors. In 2015, we were tracking whales with multiple vehicles in the Atlantic, in 2018, we studied a segment of the North Pacific Subtropical Front with heterogeneous vehicles operated from the R/V Falkor, in 2020, we demonstrated the integrated operation of underwater, surface, and air vehicles (capable of water takeoff and landing), and seabed nodes. Finally, in 2022, we performed concurrent operations taking place in different locations with a cloud-based command and control framework.

Finally, I will first review models of systems with evolving structure before turning to modeling, computation, and control concepts for teams of vehicles and for coordinated teamed behavior.


João Tasso de Figueiredo Borges de Sousa is with ECE Department, Porto University and the the head of the Underwater Systems and Technologies Laboratory – LSTS ( He holds a PhD and a MSc in ECE, both awarded by Porto University. His research interests include multi-domain unmanned vehicles, planning/execution control for networked vehicle systems, and applications to the ocean sciences, security, and defense. He received the BES Innovation National Award in 2006, an outstanding teaching award from Porto University in 2008, and the IEEE Ocean Engineering Society mid-career Rising Star award in 2018. He is the chair of the Swedish Marine Robotics Center Advisory Board, a member of the NATO MUS Innovation Advisory Board, and a member of SFI-Ocean Advisory Board. He was the chief scientist for the 2018 Schmidt Ocean Institute cruise Exploring Fronts with Multiple Robots. He was the chair of the 2013 IFAC Navigation, Guidance and Control Workshop and of the 2018 IEEE OES AUV Symposium. He was a co-chair of the Oceans 2021 San Diego Porto Conference. He has been co-organizing, since 2010, the REP(MUS) large-scale exercise in cooperation with the PO Navy, CMRE, and MUS-NATO. He is an Associate Editor of the IEEE Journal of Oceanic Engineering and has authored over 400 publications, including 50 journal papers.