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Autonomous Tug Odyssey Completed

By News Creatives Authors , in Business , at October 20, 2021

The odyssey has ended and the tugboat named Nellie Bly is back in Hamburg, Germany where she started her mostly autonomous adventure of 1,027 miles earlier this month. The project, named Machine Odyssey, was launched by Sea Machines Robotics to demonstrate its SM300 autonomy system.

The system is named the SM300 because it contains 300 main processors. There’s a low level vessel controller, upper level autonomy computer and the processor powering the user interface. Functional safety is built into the low level controller driven and commanded by the autonomy computer which does the path planning.

For the most part, SM300 did all the work. According to Sea Machines, 96.7% of the trip was accomplished under fully autonomous control with SM300 successfully executing 31 collision-avoidance and traffic separation maneuvers. The tug was commanded by U.S. Coast Guard-licensed mariners remotely stationed 3,600 miles away in Boston.

“The completion of this voyage marks the catalyst for a new era of at-sea operations,” said Michael Johnson, CEO of Sea Machines in a statement. “Remotely-commanded autonomous vessels provide the industry with significant increases in productivity and operational safety and will provide a new world of actionable operational data for improved planning and business practices. The Machine Odyssey signals the start of a new human-technology relationship propelling on-sea operations in the 21st century.” 

Nellie Bly’s Machine Odyssey was completed in 13 days over 129 operational hours, the company said. Its route took her from Hamburg around Denmark and back again. The tug was built by Dutch shipbuilders Damen Shipyards.

During the voyage, the tug averaged a speed of 7.9 knots and Sea Machines says it gathered 3.8TB of “essential operational data showcasing how the ships can readily connect as IOT systems into the cloud economy.”

Using what it termed “multi-sensor fusion”, the SM300 system digitally examined over 12,000 square miles of ocean space “more accurately and comprehensively than comparable human operators,” the company claimed in a release.

The SM300 also provided the remote commanders in Boston with an active chart of the environment and live augmented overlays showing the progress of the mission, state of the vessel, situational awareness of the domain, real-time vessel-borne audio, and video from many streaming cameras, according to the company.

“What we’re doing is what we need to do as the innovative leader in the space and that’s push the bounds, and really push an industry and push technology to prove that there’s a new way of operating that’s coming and and it’s here now,” said Johnson in an interview with for a story previewing the project days before the Machine Odyssey got underway.

With the Nellie Bly’s journey now complete, Johnson declared the project a success, predicting “Autonomy will take hold faster on the waterways than it is on roadways. We will soon see autonomy become commonplace.”


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