Damen, Sea Machines partner up on autonomous ship tech

Dutch shipbuilder Damen Shipyards Group and Sea Machines Robotics, the USA-based startup developing autonomous ship solutions, have signed an alliance agreement to further investigate the adoption of collision avoidance functionality onboard Damen-built ships.

Image Courtesy: Damen

For the past four years, Damen has been investing in autonomous shipping technologies. The shipbuilder has participated in several joint industry projects to research the readiness level of technologies.

As informed, Damen is now entering the next phase by establishing a strategic alliance with the Boston-based company. The alliance aims at speeding up the adoption of several navigating technologies to increase autonomy levels on Damen-built vessels.

By participating in the alliance, Damen will first adopt the Sea Machines SM300 autonomous-command and remote-helm control technology in its test environment. In this way, it is possible to predict the integration complexity and system performance on any kind of Damen vessel. By adopting this solution in software models, a digital twin of the ship becomes reality and will display the benefits of autonomous technology even before it is installed on board, according to Damen.

“At Damen we don’t so much see autonomous ships as unmanned ‘ghost’ vessels, ploughing the oceans in silence. We foresee ships where a number of tasks are automated, allowing crew to have a more focused approached to those tasks that still require the human element, such as the various activities that take place when the vessel arrives in the port,” Toine Cleophas, Manager Research at Damen, explained.

“In some situations a full autonomous ship may be required, in other cases only parts of the activities will be automated in order to support the onboard crew, thereby increasing safety and efficiency.”

“The Damen-Sea Machines alliance sends a clear signal to the industry that autonomous marine technology is rapidly gaining adoption and is in-demand among commercial operators,” Michael G. Johnson, Sea Machines’ CEO, said.

“We see a future, where most, if not all, newly constructed vessels will feature autonomous technology as standard.”

Specifically, the Sea Machine collision avoidance system can support the crew in a variety of ways. The SM300 system puts the navigator in a supervisory role, allowing him to multitask or even rest, while the ship sails its route and avoids collisions based on COLREG. By using multiple sensors in the system, such as radar and cameras and combining this with machine learning algorithms, the system uses artificial intelligence to recognise objects and manoeuvre the ship safely to its destination.

As this new collaboration gets off the ground, Damen is continuing with its internal Smart Ship programme. A part of this programme, the Damen Triton programme is already creating a data connection between ship and shore. Triton provides ship data to a variety of users, with or without data analytics, paving the way for increased efficiency and sustainability in operations. Also in the cooperation with Sea Machines, the Triton solution will be a linking pin between the onboard autonomous technology, the onshore monitoring and data analytics.