Behind every great Sea Machines system is a powerhouse team of talented mariners, engineers, coders and autonomy and perception scientists. Here, we invite you to meet some of them.
Sea Machines’ Frank Relou has a strong passion for two things: the marine industry and emerging technology. A resident of The Netherlands, Frank spent his childhood on the ocean, enjoying water sports and ship spotting. Though he spent the majority of his working years in the marine industry – first in vessel construction and later in sales – he says his love of technology as been key driver for his 20+ year career.
An avid learner, Frank immerses himself in the products he sells to become an expert. With a diverse background in marine industry sales, Frank has become an expert in everything from workboats and at-sea survival equipment to navigation technologies. But he knows that his success hinges on long-term relationships with customers.
“My job is to help customers think through their challenges to find solutions they had never considered,” Frank says. “I guide them through the process, with the understanding that there is trust involved. I have to be knowledgeable about my products, listen to their needs and understand how I can improve their business.”
From Frank’s perspective, emerging technologies, like Sea Machines’ autonomy, are very important for the marine industry to embrace. He likens any resistance to when computers were first introduced.
“Everyone automatically assumed that the computer would replace people’s jobs,” said Frank. “In fact, the opposite happened – computers created more jobs. Sea Machines’ technology is doing the same. We’re not replacing people; we’re making jobs different. We’ll always need qualified sailors and operators, but they won’t have to do their jobs manually thanks to modern technology.”
Frank has seen first-hand how the hydrographic survey segment has become an early adopter for autonomous technology, in part because so much of the work is based on boustrophedonic routes and tedious data collection. Combined with this, a shortage in qualified surveyors have forced companies to seek creative solutions.
“Survey companies can’t find the people they need. With autonomous technology, one surveyor based on shore can do the work of two or even three projects at sea, without actually working any harder,” Frank explained. “The technology takes over manual tasks and allows the human to execute more rewarding and higher-cognitive work. It’s also safer and more productive.”
Frank also points out the mariners today are relying on old technology and information in the wheelhouse, factors that increase risk at sea. Sea Machines’ technologies offer sensor fusion, bringing data from AIS, radar, GPS, ECDIS charts and more into a single view so mariners can make educated operational decisions faster. Built-in obstacle detection and collision avoidance capabilities reduce at-sea risk further. And introducing a shore-based team with full situational awareness for the vessel at sea provides redundancy and back-up watchkeeping for mariners.
“As a salesperson, my goal is to always promise on what I can deliver, and deliver on what I promised,” says Frank. “Having great technology solutions makes that easy.”
Born in China, Fiona Hua’s parents had hopes that she would one day become a professional violinist. But after watching her mechanical engineer father advance in his career, she yearned to follow for a job that gave her more variety and challenge. Upon graduating high school, Fiona studied automation at the University of Science and Technology Beijing (USTB), earning academic placement in the top three percent of her class. The designation allowed her to join a team representing the University during a major robotics competition. While the event was successful in that the team worked together to build robots for specific tasks, what Fiona got out of it was so much more: She realized her professional interests lied on the programming side of the industry.
The discovery of her passion for software development drove her to pursue her Masters’ of Science in Control Theory and Engineering at USTB, followed by a Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering at Clarkson University, in Potsdam, NY – studies that focused on programming and visual recognition technology. Before she had even graduated from with her Ph.D, however, Fiona was offered a position at Aware, Inc., in Boston, as a research scientist. The job specialized in facial recognition software in support of security and banking technologies. She accepted in 2013 and finished her doctoral program while working full time.
After five years, a recruiter contacted her to gauge her interest in a perception and data lead with Sea Machines in Boston. It was 2018 and Sea Machines had just completed its Series A funding round successfully. A follower of autonomous vehicle technology, Fiona was shocked to learn how advanced Sea Machines’ autonomous systems were. Despite having no background in the marine industry, Fiona realized the job was within her reach.
“Though the data identifying facial and marine targets was fundamentally different, the AI powering the process is the same,” Fiona said.
Fiona accepted the job and started her position building the company’s advanced perception technology and data library of marine targets to support the SM300 and SM400 systems. During her first week on the job, Fiona took a ride aboard Sea Machines’ autonomous boat. An infrequent boater, Fiona was amazed by the technology.
“It was – and is – amazing to witness,” she said. “If I ever own a boat, I want a Sea Machines system for it. It gave me such a level of comfort and trust on the water and I want to build the smart perception to empower this autonomy vessel.”
Fiona, who embraces new experiences, was overjoyed in her new role. Her first challenge involved improving the quality of the company’s situational awareness data to meaningfully annotate it with tracking identifiers. Under her leadership, she formed a process to ensure data integrity as it was transferred from Europe to the team in Boston, and been effectively used to develop the AI-powered perception system. With her system in place, Sea Machines has identified more than 86 million targets – one of the largest marine data sets in the industry. She has also given Sea Machines’ advanced perception system the ability “see” 20km into the maritime domain to identify even very small objects, a capability that offers safer and more reliable vessel operations.
“I think the work we are doing is harder than that of self-driving cars. The scale of marine targets adds complexity. We see very large, tall vessels right next to tiny buoys, and we are training our system to recognize both in the same frame. And the diversity of the boat types is so much greater than vehicles on the roadway. But it helps to keep it interesting,” Fiona explained. “The current challenge is to continually develop our advanced situational awareness system with the greatest possible accuracy for vessels operating in diverse locations.”
Notably, Fiona recently enrolled in Boston University’s MBA program, a course of study that she hopes will enrich her career and help her overcome common business challenges in the future.
“Whatever I can do to positively contribute to my team, I want to do it,” said Fiona. “We are a motivated group that feels like family. We all work towards the same goals and I really enjoy working alongside my teammates.”
With 23 years’ experience in the marine industry, some would call Peter Holm a veteran, but the reality is that he is just getting started. Born in Denmark, Peter grew up in the country’s maritime epicenter, Esbjerg, and was entranced by the ships that called into port. It only made sense then that in 1997 he accepted an apprenticeship as a ship’s boarding agent for the Port of Esbjerg. The apprenticeship gave him critical dockside experience and an appreciation for the interaction between ships and the port.
The early days of his career continued in the maritime sector, with various roles for shipping companies in Denmark. But when he had the chance to support an oil and gas project for Maersk FPSOs in Singapore and Brazil, his career began to bourgeon. The Maersk project led to interactions with SAL Heavy Lift, which later offered him a job in Germany. Peter, who is fluent in five languages, accepted in 2011 and relocated to Hamburg, where he and his family reside to this day. The next year, Italian firm Micoperi Engineering was awarded the world’s largest wreck removal and maritime salvage project, the Costa Concordia, and hired SAL. As a result, Peter traveled to Italy and began working side-by-side with Michael G. Johnson, the 2015 founder of Sea Machines.
Michael’s big ideas for how to improve the productivity and safety of the industry through modern technology left an impression on Peter and he agreed to join fledgling Sea Machines Robotics for a European sales tour in 2016.
“Admittedly, I was apprehensive to join a start-up. But the next year I attended an industry event in Copenhagen. The speaker said, ‘Autonomous ships are not a thing of the future; they are here now,’ and he directed attention to Sea Machines’ autonomous vessel sailing by. It was then that I had to be a part of this.”
Peter enthusiastically joined Sea Machines full time in 2018 with responsibility for ensuring success for the groundbreaking project alongside A.P. Moller-Maersk to trial the world’s first A.I.-powered advanced perception system aboard an operating ship. The trials continue but the system born from the project is expected to be released in late 2021.
“To see how effortless it is to use our systems today versus when I started is impressive. The advanced perception system is designed to help the crew as ships transit. We are offering automated, 24/7 watchkeeping. It keeps a lookout all 120 degrees forward, picking up objects as small as a buoy. I have full trust in our systems, in terms of their reliability, in keeping people safe and ships on schedule.”
For the future of Sea Machines, Peter wants to see Sea Machines become the standard for big and small vessels alike.
“We have the technology to move the industry forward. What we’ve achieved is fantastic but more is in store.”
From space to the oceans, Alex Venetiou has spent his tenured career supporting the development of systems and technologies that tap the potential of these great frontiers. Originally from Seattle, Alex was born into a maritime family and spent his free time fishing, outrigger canoe paddling, sailing and windsurfing. His port manager father inspired him to apply to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, to which he was accepted in 1990. Alex graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Marine Engineering Systems and the ambition to go on to graduate school to study control theory. He earned his Master of Science in Electrical Engineering (MSEE) from the University of Southern California (USC).
While at USC, Alex made connections that helped him gain his first post graduate job at The Boeing Company, as a reliability engineer in Huntington Beach, Calif., where he analyzed systems and mitigated problems for the International Space Station. While at Boeing, he also worked on the Delta IV launch vehicle and Maui Space Surveillance System (MSSS) as an electronics engineer. At MSSS, he broadened his motion control skills to include large optics for telescopes. This experience led Alex to join Lowell Observatory’s Discovery Channel Telescope (DCT) design team in Flagstaff, Ariz., as the senior electrical engineer. In this position, Alex designed, built and tested the electronics and controls systems for a new 4.3-meter telescope in only seven years – a process that can take a decade or more with larger telescopes.
“DCT gave me the opportunity to see all phases of the telescope’s development, from concept to completion, an experience that continues to serve me today,” said Alex.
In 2013, he relocated to the East Coast for a Senior Systems Engineer position at L3 Technologies, in Wilmington, Mass. Over the course of five years he was promoted to the position of systems engineering manager and served as a technical lead for another specialized space telescope.
Then, in 2019, a recruiter approached Alex with an offer to interview for Sea Machines as a lead systems engineer. He was immediately drawn to the fact that the position was a match for both his control theory and maritime backgrounds. Soon after, Sea Machines offered him the job.
With help from his systems engineering team, Alex leads the development of the hardware portion of Sea Machines’ products. He also interacts with customers and develops interfaces for their vessels, which allows Sea Machines’ technology to control everything from propulsion and steering systems to unique payloads, such as marine survey sonars or spill response boom arms.
A year later, Alex was promoted to Sea Machines’ director of engineering. Now, Alex leads the software and hardware engineering teams in the development of industry-leading, autonomous-command and remote-helm control systems for commercial marine vessels.
“One of the best parts about working for Sea Machines is being out on the water aboard the boats. I really enjoy the team. It’s comprised of a group of talented engineers who work well together,” he said.
Alex looks forward to honing his leadership and watching his team thrive with the company.
“Sea Machines is one of the lead autonomous systems in our industry,” he said. “Clients have tested our systems against others, and they prefer ours, which is gratifying. It is exciting to develop a unique system – an ‘autonomy in a box,’ retro-fit option. No one else does what we do.”
A Boston native, Lauren Lamm grew up hearing stories of her father’s U.S. Coast Guard career. While in high school, Lamm attended a Science Technology Engineering & Mathematics (STEM) program at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy (MMA) and knew her career would follow in his footsteps.
“I realized then that I didn’t want a traditional desk job,” Lamm said. “The STEM program at Mass Maritime exposed me to some aspects of ship life, from maintenance to safety. It was exciting.”
After graduation, that passion inspired her to enroll at MMA, to which she was accepted. It was during her freshman MMA Sea Term that she reaffirmed her passion for bridge navigation aboard ships. Her four-year stint at the academy began as a marine transportation major and member of the crew team, and ended as regimental training and retention officer, with sea-going experience as a deck cadet aboard a Maersk Line car carrier. While still enrolled at the academy, she met her husband (a fellow mariner-in-training) and earned her 3rd Mate Unlimited Tonnage license, an accreditation that helped her land her first job after graduation in 2013, sailing for Otto Candies.
As she gained experience on the bridge with Otto Candies, she also upgraded her license to a Master Unlimited Tonnage upon Oceans and began to take an interest in marine autonomy.
“I was originally attracted to autonomy as a way to help avoid human error in our industry,” she said. “Now, I also view it as a tool that will make the marine sector safer and more efficient. While the industry has been slow to change, it’s obvious this is the direction it’s going. I view autonomous marine technology like dynamic positioning (DP) was viewed 20 years ago. Back then, it seemed foreign to mariners, but now people rely on it and it has added so much value. It’s just a matter of time before our systems are embedded in maritime operations, helping to make everything smoother.”
In July 2018, she followed her new interest in emerging marine technology and joined Sea Machines as a vessel test lead. The job now lets her use the company’s SM series of products for commercial vessels and provide recommendations from the mariner’s perspective that make them easier to use and more intuitive.
“Sea Machines considers me the voice of the customer,” Lamm said, referring to the mariners who use Sea Machines products. “I love being out on the water putting our products to the test so we can make improvements. I take this responsibility seriously and I enjoy showing the industry that this high-end technology is easy to use and integrates fully with vessels. I know the work I’m doing is going to help create a safer environment for mariners to operate in.”
Lamm is a founding member of the Northeast Chapter of the Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association (WISTA) and is an avid runner and cyclist, including participation in the 2015 and 2018 Pan Mass Challenge and 2019 Boston Marathon. Her husband currently works as a mariner in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico.
A Long Island, NY, native, Frank Marino’s engineering career began in his early years building LEGO sets. As he grew, he took apart cars and other items just to put them back together. This passion for building and fixing later drove Marino to Northeastern University, in Boston, to tandem pursue his B.S. and M.S. degrees in mechanical engineering, with a concentration in robotics.
“I was drawn to robotics over other engineering specialties because machines are animated. I enjoy building robots with the purpose of completing tasks,” he said.
While in school, he participated in three co-ops. The first allowed him to optimize the efficiency of greenhouse operations using robots. This included managing the mechanical and electrical design for robots to recognize heavy potted plants and move them to designated locations for ideal watering and management.
“Before robots were used, greenhouse labor was manual and expensive. Automation helped the greenhouse reduce costs and increase safety, which was rewarding,” he explained.
The next co-op he participated in was for QinetiQ, where he had the opportunity to use his mechanical engineering expertise to retrofit large vehicles with advanced, remote-control systems.
Marino’s final co-op was for Hydroid, a marine automation company, that helped to connect his engineering passion with his love of the water and recreational boating. There he was tasked with providing mechanical engineering support to the company’s automated underwater vessels. He continued supporting Hydroid for several months after his 2016 graduation from Northeastern.
Then, in January 2017, Marino joined the Sea Machines team as a mechatronics engineer. The job now allows him to work on Sea Machines’ hardware and electrical design integration, and has fused his passions and experience into one package that is fulfilling him in new ways.
“Every boat is like a new puzzle to me,” he said. “And working for a start-up is exciting. What I am building now for Sea Machines is the foundation for future iterations of technology, which will be a more compact and sleeker design. What we’re learning will help us build tomorrow’s products. One day, every boat will have some kind of automation built in, like cars do now. It’s neat to be a part of that.”
When asked what he enjoys most about his career at Sea Machines, he said, “The company is one of the few developing this type of technology. I like that the company’s systems offer robotics solutions that will ultimately solve the challenges of ‘dull, dirty and dangerous’ work, and will help to save lives, keep people healthier and allow companies to be more productive.”