Sea Machines readies autonomous tugboat for 1,000 mile Machine Odyssey

Written by Nick Blenkey
Autonomous tugboat at quayside

Sea Machines autonomous tugboat Nellie Bly,

Aiming to demonstrate that the world’s waterways are primed and ready for autonomous technology, Boston, Mass,, based Sea Machines Robotics plans to send a tugboat on a 1,000 nautical mile autonomous and remotely commanded journey around Denmark.

The voyage, dubbed “the Machine Odyssey” 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.

Map shows 1,000 mile route arpund Denmark to be taken by autono,ous tugboat.

Sea Machines says that the voyage will “prove to the world, and specifically to the thousands of global companies that operate the fleets of cargo ships, tugs, ferries and the many other types of commercial workboats, that operators can integrate autonomous technology into their vessel operations for a host of technology-driven benefits, from enhanced safety and reliability to leaps in productivity and new on-water capabilities.”

The vessel making the Machine Odyssey is a tug designed and built by Damen Shipyards of the Netherlands. It is named the Nellie Bly, paying homage to the American journalist, industrialist, inventor and charity worker, widely known for her 1899 solo trip around the world in 72 days as a New York World writer.

At the helm of the Nellie Bly will be the Sea Machines SM300 autonomy system, which will also utilize the latest in Sea Machines’ industry-leading, long-range computer vision. The SM300 is 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 a 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.

Sea Machines says that safety of ship, crew and cargo is paramount within its autonomy stack, with protection behaviors that enable the industry to optimize operations with assurance.


“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.”

Throughout the voyage the Nellie Bly will carry two professional mariners and occasional guest passengers and will call on ports along the route to display and demonstrate the technology. Sea Machines will stream the journey live on a website dedicated to the Machine Odyssey giving access to 24/7 updates from the sea, the crew, the command center, and more.

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