A world-first autonomous voyage will be attempted at the end of this month to trial technology over a longer and more complex multi-port route
Sea Machines Robotics is planning to circumnavigate Denmark with a remotely commanded tugboat on a multi-week 1,000 nautical mile voyage.
It has hired Damen Shipyards-built tug Nellie Bly to begin this Machine Odyssey from Hamburg, Germany on 30 September.
During this voyage of discovery, full onboard vessel control will be managed by autonomous technology, while operating under the authority of commanding officers located in the US.
Throughout the voyage, Nellie Bly will carry two professional mariners and occasional guest passengers and will call at ports along the route to display and demonstrate the technology.
Its route starts from Hamburg and travels through the Kiel Canal to the Baltic. It skirts around eastern Denmark to Copenhagen and then to Aarhus and Skagen, down the North Sea coast to Esbjerg, finishing off in Cuxhaven, Germany.
During this voyage, Nellie Bly will be kitted out with an array of sensors and cameras, Furuno radar, AIS and GPS for situational awareness of the commanders.
It will have the latest communications equipment as Sea Machines said it would stream the journey live on a website dedicated to the Machine Odyssey.
At the helm will be a Sea Machines SM300 autonomy system, using long-range computer vision.
SM300 is a comprehensive sensor-to-propeller autonomy module that uses advanced path-planning, obstacle avoidance replanning, vectored nautical chart data and dynamic domain perception, all to control a voyage from start to finish.
This provides the remote human commanders with an active chart environment with live augmented overlays showing the mission, state of vessel, situational awareness and environmental data. Vessel-based audio and video will be streamed in real-time.
Sea Machines chief executive Michael Johnson said this project will demonstrate the potential capabilities of autonomous vessel technology for future coastal shipping and tug operations.
“Our autonomous technology elevates humans from controller to commander with most of the direct continuous control effort being managed by technology,” said Mr Johnson.
“This will give on-water industries the tools and capability to be much more competitive, end the erosion of high-value cargo to air and road, put more vessels on the water, operate in better harmony with the natural ocean environment and deliver new products and services.”
Safety of ship, crew and cargo is paramount within the Sea Machines’ autonomy stack. There are protection behaviours that enable the industry to optimise operations with assurance and an exacting balance of safety, productivity and efficiency.