A survey of machine learning approaches for surface maritime navigation
AbstractIn this article we present the state of the art in the field of autonomous surface ship navigation using machine learning. We discuss the main challenges towards the development of fully autonomous navigation systems with the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGs). Finally, we propose two alternative approaches that are based on machine learning. Existing COLREGs-based navigation and collision avoidance algorithms are based on traditional search-based planning and optimization algorithms. We consider that these approaches are suitable when the problem space is defined completely and rigorously. However, experts believe that is not the case for COLREGs since it leaves many aspects open to the interpretation of the captain. For example, COLREGs expects that any collision avoidance action shall be taken with due regard to the observance of good seamanship, a concept not defined in the convention. Furthermore, many rules are defined using undefined concepts like safe distance, or keywords like early, or substantial, without giving any definition. COLREGs even allow for the rules to be broken to avoid an accident. Due to this, traditional planning approaches may not be able to handle complex scenarios that are underspecified according to COLREGs. An alternative is the use of machine learning (ML), reinforcement learning (RL) and imitation learning (IL) at the core of autonomous navigation systems. Machine learning is known to succeed and outperform traditional approaches specially in vaguely defined problem domains, where it is difficult, if not impossible, to create a full formal specification of the phenomenon under study. We consider this to be the case for COLREGs-based navigation and we conjecture that a ML-based navigation approach can outperform existing search-based and optimization algorithms.