Industry-First Wireless Helm System Approved for US-Flag ATBs

Mike Schuler
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January 8, 2020

SM200 wireless helm system. Photo courtesy Sea Machines

In what is said to be an industry first for wireless vessel control, Boston-based robotics company Sea Machines Robotics has received approval from the U.S. Coast Guard and American Bureau of Shipping for the installation of wireless helm system for use on U.S.-flag tugboats.

Sea Machines has announced its SM200 commercial wireless helm system was granted approval from the USCG and ABS for installation onboard a class of articulated tug-barge (ATB) units, officially deeming the system satisfactory for shipboard installation and trials. Sea Machines managed the review process in partnership with its dealer Rio Controls & Hydraulics, of Houston.

Sea Machines describes the system as an industry first that frees pilots from the wheelhouse and adds flexibility in vessel control. The company notes one advantage for an ATB is connecting the tug in the barge notch. For example, using the system, the pilot can leave the wheelhouse and view the pins directly while still in full control of the vessel, compared to the conventional method of hand signals from other crew members to the pilot in the wheelhouse.

“The SM200 introduces flexible control for mariners, meaning the primary operator is no longer bound to a fixed control station,” Sea Machines said in a statement. “This system enables wireless helm and propulsion control, as well as remote control of auxiliaries and payload equipment, freeing mariners from the wheelhouse to conduct operations from any location that offers the greatest visibility and safety.”

In addition to maneuvering, the SM200 system also allows for wireless remote control of vessel equipment, including connection pins, pumps, winches, anchor windlasses and more. 

“Today Sea Machines celebrates the confirmation that our SM200 system has been approved for use aboard ATBs by two of the most trusted bodies in the industry, ABS and the U.S. Coast Guard,” said Michael G. Johnson, CEO, Sea Machines. “We also would like to thank Rio Controls & Hydraulics for their hard work in supporting the thorough review process and integrating the SM200 with their systems. This approval will unquestionably be the first of many to come for a wide variety of vessel types and is already fostering greater industry acceptance for this new realm of marine technology that boosts the capability, productivity, and safety of vessel operations.”

The SM200 is part of the Sea Machines’ SM Series of products designed for existing or newbuild commercial vessels, including fireboats, commercial survey workboats, spill-response vessels, security/patrol/search-and-rescue craft, offshore wind support vessels, aquaculture workboats and others. The company is also testing advanced perception and situational awareness technology onboard one of A.P. Moller-Maersk’s newbuild ice-class container ships, with several other installations scheduled, the company says.

In late 2018, Sea Machines completed a Series A investment round, raising $10 million to advance autonomous technology within the commercial maritime sector and marking one of the largest venture capital rounds for a U.S.-based marine and maritime-focused technology company. 

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