Autonomous vessel software and systems provider Sea Machines Robotics today closed a $15 million funding round to accelerate deployment of its technologies in the unmanned naval boat and ship market. Sea Machines boldly claims this is one of the largest rounds for a tech company tackling marine and maritime use cases.
Self-steering vessels aren’t a new idea — but they are gaining steam. Earlier this year, IBM and Promare — a U.K.-based marine research and exploration charity — trialed a prototype of an AI-powered maritime navigation system ahead of a September 6th venture to send a ship across the Atlantic Ocean. In Norway, a crewless cargo ship called the Yara Birkeland is expected to go into commercial operation later in 2020. And Rolls-Royce previously demonstrated a fully autonomous passenger ferry in Finland and announced a partnership with Intel as part of a plan to bring self-guided cargo ships to seas by 2025.
There’s a reason for the boom in an industry Allied Research predicts could be worth $130 billion within a decade. Autonomous ships reduce emissions while promising fewer accidents. Moreover, crewless vessels open the doors to longer research missions, as things like food and salaries are no longer logistical or budgetary concerns.
Sea Machines manufactures a number of vessel intelligence systems that provide “operator-in-the loop” autonomous command and control. The SM300, which is designed to integrate with existing sensors to manage preplanned and dynamically charted missions, features obstacle and traffic avoidance. The entry-level SM200 for tugboats, fireboats, target boats, ferries, utility craft, and other workboats, provides fully integrated line-of-sight and remote-helm control for multi-vessel operations. And the soon-to-launch SM400 has an AI-powered situational awareness mechanism that leverages computer vision, lidar, object identification, and tracking.
Sea Machines taps in-house technology called TALOS to connect a vessel’s propulsion machinery with navigation sensors and allow for autonomous and remote control. This makes mission planning, pilot-ready navigation, and common workboat routing tasks possible, and it allows the system to serve as a data recorder. TALOS also features built-in middleware to accept third-party software plugins for payload control and data collection. And it’s designed to be retrofitted aboard existing vessels with only broadband radio, 4G, or VSAT connections available.
Sea Machines’ products interface with workboats featuring mechanical controls and modern workboats packing “drive-by-wire” networked components. Installation takes a matter of weeks and requires about 10 components, depending on the vessel and equipment used. Sea Machines says its systems feature security measures like encryption and VPNs that protect the underlying components from external threats.
Since launching its first family of products in late 2018, Sea Machines says the commercial vessels and three in-house test vehicles equipped with its software have completed six pilot programs and 3,724 operational hours. Last July, it entered into a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration to demonstrate the ability of its autonomous technology in increasing the safety, response time, and productivity of marine oil spill response operations. The company also tested its perception and situational awareness technology aboard one of A.P. Moller-Maersk’s new-build ice-class container ships.
This week’s series B round was led by Accomplice, with participation by Toyota AI Ventures, Brunswick (through investment partner TechNexus), Geekdom Fund, NextGen Venture Partners, Eniac VC, LaunchCapital, and others. It brings Boston-based Sea Machines’ total raised to over $25 million, following a $10 million series A in December 2018.