October 30, 2020

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US Navy’s top research office makes investment in digital twins

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Navy’s top research office is partnering with industry on a project...

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Navy’s top research office is partnering with industry on a project designed to allow Navy operators to take full advantage of a ship’s electrical system to meet mission-critical needs.

Under a new $9.2 million contract awarded by the Office of Naval Research in late July to a partnership between Navatek and the University of South Carolina, the collaboration will research power and energy systems, as well as develop digital twins of Navy ships. Those digital twins will give the Navy insight into all the smaller systems aboard the ship and how they will react if an action is taken.

“When you put many hundreds or thousands of … wires and communication systems, etc., they all interfere with each other,” said Hossein Haj-Hariri, dean of USC’s College of Engineering and Computing. “So in order to understand basically what happens if you turn a knob here — do you get the desired result or do you blow something up — they develop these digital twins. Essentially, it’s a digital version of the ship with all those little systems that have their own input-output relationship built into it.

“So once you put it all together, then you can develop an overlaying control system that says basically: ’If you turn this knob, this is exactly what is going to happen.’ ”

During a battle or day-to-day operations, the digital twin will allow an operator to prepare the ship for “next steps” that must be taken, Haj-Hariri said in an interview with C4ISRNET.

Advanced power control systems will also help manage power and energy resources aboard ships that use directed-energy weapons like lasers, missile defense radars and rail guns, according to a USC news release.

The Office of Naval Research wants to use digital twins for power system controls and prognostics as well as to maintain a functional network, said Thomas Fu, director of the Mission Capable, Persistent and Survivable Naval Platforms Department at ONR. Specifically, the Navy wants to conduct research into power and energy systems modeling and machine learning, while also developing “tightly coupled” hardware and software to demonstrate, test and validate digital twin control systems’ effectiveness, he told C4ISRNET in a statement.

“This will help the fleet by increasing resiliency, efficiency, adaptability, and autonomy of naval power systems and platforms through new digital twin approaches to command and control. In addition it will accelerate transition of health monitoring and predictive maintenance technology for costly electrical components aboard Navy ships,” Fu said.

Fifty percent of the work will be performed in Honolulu, Hawaii, and Columbia, South Carolina according to the contract announcement from the Defense Department. In anticipation of the award, Navatek hired 10 full-time scientists and engineers and four interns from USC and South Carolina State University for a new office in Columbia. The company plans to expand its presence in the state to 60 people in the next two and a half years.

Navatek did not respond to a request for comment.

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