Sea Machines Uses AI, Vision to Steer Shipping Vessels to Safety

New maritime technology taps computer vision and artificial intelligence to enable commercial ships and workboats to operate autonomously. The new capabilities open up shipping routes and improve disaster response with increased safety and less environmental impact than current processes.

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Image credit: Sea Machines Robotics

America’s ports are in troubled waters. In 2018, US ports supported about 26 percent of our GDP, but compared to other countries, we’re woefully inadequate. Our ports are small, and our infrastructure is outdated. As a result, larger vessels are restricted from entering and even if they did, our land-based infrastructure would struggle to support the increase in cargo.

Outdated port infrastructure has further taxed the supply chain, which is still recovering from pandemic-induced snafus. Add in the labor shortage and the shipping industry is ripe for a sea change.

Sea Machines Robotics is ready. The Boston-based company has developed SM300, an autonomous self-piloting system for maritime vessels. The system can be integrated on a variety of watercraft and is currently used by shipping companies, government agencies, and cruise lines. 

To accelerate the deployment of the solution and self-piloting maritime technologies, Sea Machines has partnered with Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII), America’s largest military shipbuilding company and a provider of professional services. 

Computer Vision at the Helm

The SM300 uses onboard cameras, sensors, and artificial intelligence to provide telemetry and situational awareness to an onboard or onshore captain. A user interface allows the captain to enter the speed and path of the vessel. It can be programmed to sail a specific path or to follow the path of another ship or boat at a specific distance. Onboard machinery and instrumentation can be linked to the system, and payload data can be streamed to the user.

When using the SM200 Wireless Remote-Helm Control System, an operator can control the vessel from land or from another ship from a distance of 1km. The SM200 allows operators to steer and propel the craft using a dynamic joystick. It also enables remote control of the payload and auxiliary devices, including lights and winches, as well as vessel and payload monitoring.

Sea Machines’ AI Recognition and Identification System (AI-ris) uses digital cameras, computer vision, and AI to identify, track, classify, and geolocate objects and other vessels in and around the waterway. Objects are tagged on screen, and visual and audible notifications alert operators to potential threats. It works with radar and automatic identification system (AIS) to improve maritime safety and operates day and night, improving productivity.

The software can reroute the vessel to avoid debris, swimmers, small boats, and large ships. The Sea Machines software obviates the need for human lookouts, who suffer from fatigue and distraction, leading to misperceptions that result in accidents. In 2020, 36 percent of boating accidents were caused by lookout failures. In August, a bulk carrier collided with a tanker, beaching the bulk carrier and closing the port for several hours. With the SM300, that type of collision could be avoided.

Sea Machines cargo delivery dashboard and camera views.

Image credit: Sea Machines Robotics

Autonomous Advantages

One of the benefits of the SM300 is that it enables a boat to operate autonomously. That saves time when an environmental or natural disaster occurs. Less time is wasted trying to amass a team of boat captains. A small group of operators can manage multiple autonomous boats, keeping more people off the water and out of harm’s way.

The SM300 can follow a grid pattern, which is ideal for skimming to clean up oil spills. In fact, Sea Machines claims the AI-ris software could potentially be used to detect oil spills, which can lead to early containment.

Aside from disaster situations, the SM300 could help open smaller waterways for shipping. Alaska’s Marine Highway, which connects 30 communities along 3,500 miles of coastline, is an example of how coastal shipping could operate. The US currently has 29 maritime highways, many of which are underutilized.

Having autonomous shipping capabilities could increase traffic along those waterways, turning the “last mile” into the “last nautical mile.” It could remove hazardous material transportation from urban areas, alleviate road traffic, and substantially reduce carbon emissions. A truck produces between 60g-150g of CO2 emissions per kilometer, and a train produces 30g-100g in the same distance. A modern ship emits only 10g-40g of CO2, and a single ship on a maritime highway can carry the equivalent of about 750 trucks.

  •  Learn more about Sea Machines vessel intelligence systems.
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