Industrial Boats: New Autonomous Technology

Along with a flotilla of pleasure boats, our oceans are home to a massive and ever-growing fleet of industrial boats, carrying people and goods all across the globe. In an effort to reduce the workload of crews on industrial boats, startup company Sea Machines have been working on technology that could soon allow such vessels to sail themselves.

Industrial Boats: New Autonomous Technology

Sea Machines, based in Boston, USA, recently carried out a successful test of the new technology, launching an unmanned surface vessel (USV) into the water. The vessel is a Safeboat Defender 250 that has been phased out by the Coast Guard. After inputting coordinates into the vessel's onboard computer, the boat successfully and autonomously sailed the given course with no human inter­ven­tion.

Founder and CEO of Sea Machines Michael Johnson, who came up with the idea to create an autonomous control system for industrial boats, has more than two decades of experience in the marine industry. Speaking about the company's experiments with the new technology, he said: "By enabling a vessel to be autonomous or unmanned now you can attack fires in a different way, you can get closer. We also mentioned oil spills. Just the aspect of cleaning up oil, it’s very dangerous from the toxins and fumes. They bring value to things that are dangerous, dirty and dull and that’s really a lot of the operations in our space.

Though the technology has been shown to be successful, it still has a long way to go before it becomes widely available. Boats fitted with autonomous control will also have to be fitted with radar to detect other vessels and the long-standing rules of sailing will need to be re-evaluated to take into account the new system. “Every rule now relies on the fact that you have eyes and ears of a person on board so regulators from inter­national, to states, to insurance regulations right now are being drafted,” said Johnson.

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