Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Autonomy for Improved Operations and Modernization of Navy Shipyards

Navy SBIR 23.3 - Topic N233-118
NAVFAC - Naval Facilities Engineering Center
Pre-release 8/23/23   Opens to accept proposals 9/20/23   Closes 10/18/23 12:00pm ET    [ View Q&A ]

N233-118 TITLE: Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Autonomy for Improved Operations and Modernization of Navy Shipyards

OUSD (R&E) CRITICAL TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Human-Machine Interfaces;Sustainment;Trusted AI and Autonomy

OBJECTIVE: Modernize Navy Shipyard facilities through three lines of effort: Drydocks, Infrastructure, and Industrial Plant Equipment. Digital technology to include digital twins, AI, and autonomy will bring these century old shipyards up to modern practices. Upgrading and modernizing shipyard operations and processes will expedite, reliably and safely, redeployment of DON assets back in the field as quickly as possible. Technologies for maintaining and sustaining ships, aircraft, and ground vehicles have advanced significantly in the past 50 years. Yet, the DON sustainment community has struggled to pilot, and integrate those same technological advances into public shipyards, fleet readiness centers, and ground vehicle depots. Executing this plan will improve the Navy Shipyards� productivity and increase their maintenance throughput to support the combat readiness of the Navy.

DESCRIPTION: The DON seeks to modernize its four public shipyards by fielding unmanned systems capabilities to improve efficiency and reduce cost without sacrificing safety or reliability. Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs), Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUVs), and materials handling equipment are actively being investigated to reduce exposure to hazardous conditions; reduce or avoid costs related to inspections, repairs, and surveying; and in general improve shipyard work processes. These added capabilities will fundamentally change the shipyard work environment, allowing for faster and more reliable forms of inspection, material delivery, work standardization, security, and condition reporting.

Technologies in the following focus areas are sought. Proposals can address one or multiple areas:

1. Improvement of Materials Handling Workflow Automating cranes and folk lifts; and improving logistics tracking in near real-time. Analytics, AI, and machine learning tools can be deployed to plan scheduling, enable continuous 24/7 operations, improve safety, and track and monitor all logistics to track inventory and identify workflow bottlenecks. These digital solutions serve as a force-multiplier, and not a replacement for the workforce, by maximizing operator talent and empowering faster, smarter decisions to increase safety and operator efficiency.

2. Autonomous 3D Precision Scanning (Command, Control, and Communications): Progress in 3D scanning continues to revolutionize multiple industries. The Navy desires the ability to autonomously 3D scan large platforms (e.g., aircraft carriers, airframes, vehicles) with the greatest precision possible. These scans will further improve digital twins as well as locate various structural issues that may otherwise by difficult to discern. This focus area is intended to advance (1) the digitization rate (including capture of environmental conditions as metadata), (2) precision from stand-off distances, and (3) rate of image rendering/stitching to create an interactive model.

3. Autonomous Non-Destructive Inspection (Autonomy and Microelectronics): Inspections of various structures (e.g., struts or stiffeners), pier facilities, and components (e.g., hatches or assemblies) of DON platforms are very labor intensive. The Navy desires to perform non-destructive inspections (NDI) of various geometries, sizes, and submerged assets through autonomous means. Existing NDI techniques including but not limited to penetrant testing, ultrasonic testing, and magnetic testing are sought to be placed in an autonomous solution.

PHASE I: Develop and demonstrate an initial functional prototype meeting one primary Focus Area of the three Focus Areas listed under the Description. Phase I submissions should provide sufficient information on how the prototype to be developed and demonstrated during the Phase I will function in a relevant environment in a manner meeting the specified Focus Area. This information may include, but is not limited to, detailed designs, preliminary component or system laboratory testing, or a minimum viable product (MVP). At the end of Phase I, an initial functional prototype will be ready for demonstration and a detailed test plan for prototype testing will be provided to the Government.

PHASE II: Develop and demonstrate a functional prototype. Perform a Prototype Demonstration of Viability that focuses on moving beyond proving basic achievement of meeting DON needs to meeting usability features required for integration and deployment. Work with actual end users and systems integration personnel to ensure that requirements beyond technological performance of the prototype are identified (e.g., Human System Interface, logistics, training, maintenance, installation). Use feedback from DON users, systems integrators, and other potential defense and commercial beneficiaries and stakeholders to modify and adapt the prototype(s) to meet defense operational conditions and technical needs, Ensure that the prototype demonstrates operational and/or commercial viability. Recommend test procedures to demonstrate viability and an appropriate facility for the test.

Perform Pilot Testing in an Operational Environment that includes meeting with DON command stakeholders and operational end users to conduct pilot tests of fully functional prototype(s) in an operational environment or military exercise. Coordinate testing with DON command and operational stakeholders. Provide the results of this testing to inform stakeholders on the capabilities of the developed technology and the probability for its deployment in an operational environment. Use feedback from DON users, systems integrators, and other potential defense and commercial beneficiaries and stakeholders to adapt the prototype(s) to optimize defense operational and technical benefits and to provide optimal dual-use commercial market fit. If required, support the contractor-conducted tests, but the operation of the prototypes in the test must be capable of being performed by the government.

PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: Support the transition to Navy use. Given the need for these capabilities at numerous sites, the Navy will coordinate funding to maximize return on investment at needed sites. Depending on financial estimates, a phased procurement may be required to reach full implementation at the necessary sites. Coordination between the Navy and the provider will be required during Phase III to ensure support and proper proficiency of the solution is in place. New guidance or standards may need to be generated to adopt these new technologies into operational processes. Standards and guidance may be adopted from commercial dual use cases. The Navy sees commercial development in autonomous systems in commercial logistics, inspection of facilities and commercial ships that can be leveraged to reduce development and transition costs.

Finally, the Federal Government sees the development of these capabilities as benefiting industrial maintenance activities in partnership with the Navy at commercial shipyards. The ability to keep critical assets in operation is a common need for which the Navy is seeking willing commercial partners . Service and or maintenance contracts may be procurement alternatives to direct acquisition of equipment.


  1. Congressional Budget Office. "An Analysis of the Navy�s Fiscal Year 2023 Shipbuilding Plan."
  2. Moriyasu, Ken and Fang, Alex. "US races to upgrade naval shipyards, wary of Chinese dominance". NikkeiAsia, May 19, 2021.
  3. DON Science and Technology (S&T) Strategy for Intelligent Autonomous Systems.

KEYWORDS: Autonomy; Artificial Intelligence; AI: Inspection; shipyard; robotics; data analytics; construction; digital twin; digitization; 3D scanning


The Navy Topic above is an "unofficial" copy from the Navy Topics in the DoD 23.3 SBIR BAA. Please see the official DoD Topic website at for any updates.

The DoD issued its Navy 23.3 SBIR Topics pre-release on August 23, 2023 which opens to receive proposals on September 20, 2023, and closes October 18, 2023 (12:00pm ET).

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Topic Q & A

10/2/23  Q. In the third category: Autonomous Non-Destructive Inspection (Autonomy and Microelectronics)-Inspections of various structures (e.g., struts or stiffeners), pier facilities, and components are you looking for proposals to focus on replacing human operators by robots e.g. ROVs, AUVs, UAVs etc. that would undertake the actual inspection, or are you asking us to focus on developing AI software techniques that given a scanned input would automatically detect, classify and alert to the existence of abnormalities in the various shipyard structures such as cranes, drydocks, piers etc.
   A. We are looking to automate collection of inspection data. The bottle neck currently in applying AI to interpret inspection data is the data collection process. Autonomous platforms are being tested to traverse the shipyard. The intent of the 3rd category is to develop an autonomous platform with sensor system to inspect and collect data. The analysis of data with a sensor system and collection method would be of interest. An effort solely focus on analysis of data using AI is not sufficient. If a data collection and sensor package can be demonstrated in Phase 1, analysis of data using AI could be a component of a Phase 2 effort.
Environmental conditions are to capture atmospheric conditions to help with development of a synthetic environment as part of the digitalization of the shipyard. Temperature, humidity, weather, and wind conditions could potentially affect shipyard operations.
9/11/23  Q. For autonomous 3D precision scanning, do you expect for the scanning to consist of the portion of the ship outside of water, or also the portion that is submerged in the water? Also is the 3D scanning required of both interior and exterior ? or just interior? or just exterior?
Also what level of accuracy or precision are you looking for? 1 mm, or 1 cm ? 1 inch? 1 foot?
Also, what kinds of environmental conditions do you want to capture as meta data? temperature and humidity?
  • This solicitation is for scanning of the shipyard, it is focused on the infrastructure components.
  • There is no current requirements for precision. It will depend on the purpose of the digital scans. In general, digitization of the shipyard is intended to help with operational planning. We do expect accuracy sufficient to help with any construction and logistical planning. Typical construction build precisions are expected to be as low as 1/4 in.
  • We are not expecting to collect environmental conditions unless it serves a purpose in inspection, maintenance, or logistical planning.

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