As one of the oldest trade fields in existence, commercial marine operations have been slow to automate. With the introduction of the SM-series products, Sea Machines is helping the marine industry transition into a new era of task-driven, computer-guided vessel operations. Installing the SM200 and SM300 products aboard workboats brings advanced autonomy within reach for small- and large-scale operators. Already in use in North America and Europe, Sea Machines unlocks real value in commercial vessel operations by providing exponential increases in productivity, predictability, performance and safety.

Read on to learn the top capabilities SM products add to commercial workboat operations.

1. Remote Control and Autonomous Command

Sea Machines enables workboats to be remote-controlled and autonomously commanded – features proven to improve onboard capability, productivity, predictability and safety. 

Remote Control

Both the SM200 and SM300 are equipped with an intuitive joystick that allows an operator to remote command manned or unmanned workboats within a 1km range from a nearshore location or a collaborative vessel. Because a remote-operated workboat in some cases requires no onboard crew, Sea Machines products can double productivity via elimination of time-consuming shift changes and stop-work periods. The use of remote control also reduces human risk in hazardous situations. Deploying remote operations is ideal for applications such as mothership/daughter ship arrangements, marine-spill response, firefighting, patrol and security, aquaculture and more.

Marine Autonomy

Autonomous operations, available exclusively as an SM300 product feature, allow operators to command manned or unmanned workboats from not only nearshore locations and neighboring boats, but also from offsite locations. This means a workboat operator who is not on board the vessel can command a workboat from nearly any location that offers a reliable network connection. In 2018, Sea Machines demonstrated this capability by commanding a Boston-based workboat from New Orleans, some 1,500 miles away.

Adding autonomy to workboats can reduce operational costs by 40 percent or more via increased on-water productivity time, fine course control, reduced crew changes, and in some cases, lowered crew expenses. Applications include on-water missions involving predictable, hazardous or remote work.

2. Predictable Mission Planning

Workboats outfitted with the SM300 come equipped with an on-board, ruggedized computer, powered by TALOS technology (“the brain”), that allows operators to plan, track and record missions using Electronic Navigation Chart  (ENC) information. These missions consider and interpret  data from radar, AIS, Electronic Navigational Charts (ENCs) and more to help operators execute highly efficient, predictable and safe routes.

Pre-planned, autonomously executed routes reduce operator fatigue, especially during long-distance, endurance missions and in poor sea conditions, and are ideal for optimizing navigation for predictable or routine routes, such as those used by passenger ferries or aquaculture workboats and security boats. The system will also broadcast feeds from cameras for remote situational awareness, a feature important for minimally or unmanned marine spill-response, patrol, firefighting and government missions.

3. Collaborative Following

Two vessels outfitted with SM300 systems can perform autonomous missions collaboratively, giving operators a force multiplier effect and significantly increased productivity. Sea Machines products allow autonomous collaborative boats to maintain a set path, speed and distance apart, and plan for deviations in advance. For many missions, tandem operations are necessary – such as when pulling boom, towing out offshore assets or fish-farm equipment installations – and leverage greater coverage with less effort.

4. Survey Routes and Other Precision Paths

Those in the hydrographic survey, data acquisition, dredging or commercial fishing industries, among others, have a need for highly predictable and precise routes. Evenly spaced sweeping or grid patterns allow for proper data collection and sea-floor mapping, fishing ground coverage, dredging progress and more. Planned patterns can be saved for repeat use and data is collected in real-time and stored for analytics and reporting.

5. Obstacle Detection and Avoidance

All SM300-enabled workboats can benefit from the system’s dynamic obstacle avoidance capabilities, which can be automatically activated during planned missions. Sea Machines products recognize common obstacles – such as other watercraft, buoys, marine life and more – and will autonomously and safely reroute an operator’s vessel to mitigate a potentially costly and harmful incident. Once the danger of collision passes, the system reroutes the workboat back on track to complete the mission. This safety feature can be disabled in advance or in the moment by an on-board or remote operator, if needed.

6. Remote Payload Control

Workboats outfitted with Sea Machines technology also benefit from remote payload control, which allows operators to engage on-board fire monitors, air quality sensors, sonar systems and more, via joystick from a secondary location. In some cases, this feature allows vessel owners to operate unmanned vessels in dangerous, hazardous or repetitive situations, as missions can be executed without a crew on board to activate fire monitors (as shown above and explained here), test air quality, scan sea floors and more. Cameras installed on board provide a live, first-person view of all the action.

7. Remote Vessel Monitoring

The SM300 gives operators accurate position and activity data for their commercial vessels via live data and camera and sensor feedback. From a remote workstation, which could be on another vessel or from a shore-based location, an operator can monitor the progress of his autonomous workboats and make adjustments to their speed, course, direction and more in real time. Remote monitoring also offers another opportunity to safeguard crews since it eliminates the need to send mariners into hazardous situations.

Ideal applications include patrol and security boats, passenger ferries, spill-response tugs and barges, crew transport boats, military and government craft, offshore and platform supply vessels, aquaculture support boats, hydrographic survey vessels, and more.

8. Data Management

Data Streaming and Collecting

The SM300 never stops working, and this extends to the product’s ability to continually stream and record mission data. This is useful for recurring projects, where operators can deploy past missions from saved archives, and also for post-mission analyses, which improve mariner training, process improvement and mission reviews.

In the past, investigators have relied upon anecdotal evidence and manual data collection, methods inherently wrought with human error. Now, with Sea Machines’ autonomous technology installed on board response vessels, the data generated from incident operations is automatically recorded and saved for documentation, analytics and archival. Lessons learned from data-based, computer-generated reporting is invaluable to future prevention, response and recovery efforts.

Integration with External Data from Third-Party Providers

Because the SM300 and SM200 integrate with other commonly used systems on board, it offers workboat operators the added value of collecting external data from sonar, radar, surface video or an on-board weather station. Through integration with software APIs, Sea Machines software connects seamlessly to survey data acquisition software or other intelligent payload systems that can be configured to react and proactively anticipate changes in a given programmed autonomy mission.

Upgrade Your Operations with These Top Capabilities — and More

Sea Machines products increase the productivity, predictability, efficiency and safety of commercial marine operations. The SM300 or SM200 can be added to all types of workboats as a retrofit or as part of new-build specifications, typically requiring only 10 components to install. Most vessels can be outfitted with a Sea Machines system in just a couple days. Even for small fleets, the system is surprisingly accessible, thanks to an affordable price point or flexible leasing options.

If you’re ready to modernize your marine operations with 21st Century technology, contact us.