Sea Machines partners with Maine Maritime and MARAD on autonomous vessel training

Written by Nick Blenkey
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MMA cadet Mary Shea commands a Sea Machines autonomous vessel

Students at Maine Maritime Academy, Castine, Me., are to get hands-on education about autonomous marine systems. Boston-based Sea Machines Robotics has partnered with the academy and the U.S. Maritime Administration’s Maritime Environmental and Technical Assistance Program to bring a new program on intelligent vessel systems into the Maine Maritime curriculum.

The Academy will provide instruction to cadets using its 41-foot workboat R/V Quickwater, which is currently being outfitted with Sea Machines’ SM300 autonomous control system, and a shoreside command station located on campus. With education of the next generation of mariners being the primary focus, the program will also demonstrate and document autonomous vessel technology’s ability to increase at-sea situational awareness, safety, energy efficiency, operational performance and the environmental impact thereof.

Maine Maritime students will command and control the autonomous vessel in the Castine Harbor and surrounding areas from the shoreside station. While learning about autonomous systems and their impact on the future of the commercial marine industry, project managers and students will measure the vessel’s emissions output to determine the precise efficiencies gained, documenting differences among various engines, equipment and sea states. During these hands-on trials, participants will collect additional data about the vessel’s situational awareness and operational performance, predictability and safety during missions.

“The importance of this partnership extends beyond providing quantitative data for what we already know – that autonomous technology can be leveraged to improve vessels’ operational efficiency, productivity and predictability while reducing at-sea navigation incidents,” said Sea Machines CEO Michaek G. Johnson. “This project is ultimately about preparing future merchant marine officers with the training and skills they will need to command the digital, data-driven commercial fleets of the 21st century.

He added that it is anticipated that the iniiative will further accelerate the multi-user operational review and validation of human-in-the-loop autonomous systems.

“The goal of this initiative is to expand Maine Maritime’s current research portfolio and to provide our students with the opportunity to gain education and training on new ‘smart vessel technology.’ The cutting edge technology will enhance students’ awareness of and use of such systems, which are quickly entering the maritime industry,” said Jennifer Norwood, assistant professor, marine transportation at Maine Maritime. “In addition to supporting our students, we look forward to providing the META Program with the data it needs to understand how advanced marine technologies can impact maritime operations and sustainability.”

Example of a shore control station [Image: Sea Machines Robotics]
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