Sea Machines’ autonomous tugboat Nellie Bly. Credit: Sea Machines Robotic

Autonomous Tug to Embark on Landmark Remotely-Operated Voyage Around Denmark

Mike Schuler
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September 14, 2021

Some big news today in the world of autonomous shipping. Boston-based Sea Machines Robotics has announced plans to embark on a 1,000 nautical mile voyage using an autonomous and remotely commanded ocean-going tugboat.

The milestone voyage is set to take place later this month using the tug Nellie Bly which will be sailing around on around Denmark. Sea Machines said the voyage will mark a landfall moment for autonomous transportation and is slated to prove that the world’s waterways are primed and ready for long-range autonomy.

The tug will depart from Hamburg, Germany, on September 30, with full onboard vessel control managed by autonomous technology, while operating under the authority of commanding officers located in the United States. Two officers will remain on board through the voyage. Occasional guest passengers will be allowed on board as the vessel calls on ports along the route to display and demonstrate the technology.

The project is named The Machine Odyssey, n homage to Homer’s Odyssey and translating to a long purpose-driven and eventful journey.

The Machine Odyssey project map
Map shows route of The Machine Odyssey project’s voyage. Credit: Sea Machines Robotics

Nelly Bly is a modern ubiquitous tug designed and built by Damen Shipyards of the Netherlands. The name pays homage to the American journalist, industrialist, inventor and charity worker who was widely known for her ultra-bold and record-breaking solo trip around the world in 72 days.

At the helm will be the Sea Machines SM300 autonomy system, a comprehensive sensor-to-propeller autonomy system that uses advanced path-planning, obstacle avoidance replanning, vectored nautical chart data and dynamic domain perception, all to control the voyage from start to finish. The SM300 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, as well as real-time, vessel-born audio and video from many streaming cameras.

“From time immemorial the oceans have driven the best of human innovation, designed and built by architects and engineers, and deployed by a select and special group of people, mariners, that much of society relies on today and evermore in the future for the supply of food, power, water, goods and transport. And as a technology space leader, Sea Machines takes it as our duty to embark into new waters, motor through any and all fog of uncertainty, and prove the value within our planned technology course,” said Michael Johnson, CEO of Sea Machines.

“Just as other land-based industries shift repetitive, manual drudgery from human to predictable robotic systems, our autonomous technology elevates humans from controller to commander with most of the direct continuous control effort being managed by technology. This recast human-technology relationship is the basis of a new era of at-sea operations and 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 water, operate in better harmony with the natural ocean environment and deliver new products and services,” Johnson said.

Sea Machines was founded in 2015 and is a market leader in pioneering autonomous command and control and advanced perception systems for the marine industries.

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