With a wrench in hand, Mary Shea climbed into the bilge of a boat in Portland, Maine harbor that gave little hint that it is a harbinger of the future.
Shea, a fifth-year marine systems engineering major, worked as an intern last summer for Boston-based Sea Machines Robotics, a leading developer of autonomous command and advanced perception systems for workboats and other commercial surface vessels.
The boat was a 30-foot Kvichak Marco skimmer boat, an aluminum hull workboat for oil spill clean-up. Shea helped install a rudder control, ignition harness, and other systems that converted the vessel into the world’s first autonomous spill response vessel, demonstrated in August before the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD), naval, environmental, and industry representatives.
During the demonstration, the boat, commissioned for the Marine Spill Response Corporation with support by MARAD, was alternatively commanded from shoreside by a Sea Machines operator and a second vessel in the harbor to perform autonomous waypoint and gridline tracking, as well as remote-controlled deployment of an onboard boom, skimmer belt and other response equipment.
While the vessel operated autonomously in the harbor, Sea Machines’ Lauren Lamm, vessel test lead, explained that an operator using the company’s autonomous-command and remote-helm control system, called SM300, can command and control the skimmer from anywhere in the world that has a network connection....Read More