Boston, US-based autonomous systems developer Sea Machines Robotics could find a favourable foothold in the European sector, having entered into a strategic alliance with Damen Shipyards Group in early February.
The partnership will eventually see Damen adopt Sea Machines’ SM300 autonomous-command and remote-helm control technology aboard its future newbuilds. Initially, Damen will incorporate the SM300 package into its in-house simulator, allowing trainees to become familiar with the system's capabilities and user interface.
Damen stresses that it expects the autonomous technology to fulfil more of a supporting than a stand-alone role. Toine Cleophas, manager for research at Damen, says: “We don’t so much see autonomous ships as unmanned ‘ghost’ vessels, ploughing the oceans in silence. We foresee ships where a number of tasks are automated, allowing crew to have a more focused approached to those tasks that still require the human element, such as the various activities that take place when the vessel arrives in the port.
“In some situations, a full autonomous ship may be required; in other cases, only parts of the activities will be automated in order to support the onboard crew, thereby increasing safety and efficiency.”
Damen is reportedly keen to investigate the SM300’s obstacle detection and collision avoidance functionalities, which were developed in compliance with COLREGS. These features could free up the navigator to pursue a more ‘supervisory’ onboard role – effectively enabling him or her to concentrate on other tasks, or even take a break, while the vessel is on its route.
“By using multiple sensors in the system, such as radar and cameras, and combining these with machine learning algorithms, the system uses AI to recognise objects and manoeuvre the ship safely to its destination,” Damen adds. The technology could also allow for reduced crews in situations where doing so could lead to safer, more efficient operations.