Sea Machines demonstrated autonomous vessel for oil-spill response

Oil spills have many effects on the environment; it can potentially damage waterways, marine life and plants and animals on the land. We need to take some steps to contain this problem. Now, it seems like in the near future, we might have robotic helpers to deal with such incidents.

A Boston-based Sea Machines Robotics has successfully demonstrated an autonomous system in action on board a Kvichak Marco skimmer boat, which according to the company is the first autonomous spill response vessel of its kind in the world.

This technology will increase the safety, productivity, and predictability of response for marine oil-spill operations. The autonomous boating company is teamed up with the U.S. Department of Transportation Maritime Administration (MARAD) to develop its first autonomous spill response vessel.

It can increase the safety, productivity, and predictability of response for marine oil-spill operations./ Image Credit: Sea Machines
It can increase the safety, productivity, and predictability of response for marine oil-spill operations./ Image Credit: Sea Machines

The demonstration of the self-navigating boat took place at Portland, Maine, on Wednesday, in front of a live audience of MARAD, government and industry representatives. From their shoreside location, the operator put the boat through its paces, including remote autonomous control, ENC mission planning, autonomous waypoint, and grid operations, multi-vessel collaboration, along with remote payload control for spill response equipment, including its onboard boom and skimmer belt.

Our operation of the world’s first autonomous, remote-commanded spill-response vessel is yet another significant industry first for Sea Machines,” said Michael G. Johnson, founder, and CEO of Sea Machines. “But even more important is the fact that we’ve proven that our technology can be applied to the marine spill response industry – as well as other marine sectors – to protect the health and lives of mariners responding to spills.”

These spill-response vessels are aimed to clean up 1.3 million gallons of petroleum spilled into U.S. waters from vessels and pipelines. The crewless vessels powered by remote-control technology can be sent to an incident site to survey the spill size and spread, toxicity, currents and more.

It can increase the safety, productivity, and predictability of response for marine oil-spill operations./ Image Credit: Sea Machines
It can increase the safety, productivity, and predictability of response for marine oil-spill operations./ Image Credit: Sea Machines

These vessels are equipped with environment assessment sensors and can provide feedback on air and water quality back to responders without risking their wellbeing. One more big advantage of these autonomous vessels is safety, as they eliminate the need to send human crews out in rough seas and weather.

The team also discussed how to operate the skimmer in an unmanned autonomous mode, which enables operators to respond to spill events 24/7 depending on recovery conditions, even when crews are restricted.

This is the future of the maritime industry. It’s safer, it’s faster, it’s more cost-effective,” Richard Balzano, deputy administrator at MARAD said in a release. “This technology is here and it will make you a believer. We are here because we want to help the maritime industry evolve. It’s about safety, the environment and reducing risk on the water.”

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