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The Machine Odyssey

On 14 September 2021, Sea Machines Robotics announced that it will embark on a 1,000nm autonomous and remotely commanded journey around Denmark later this month. Aptly named The Machine Odyssey, the voyage marks a landfall moment for autonomous transportation and is slated to prove that the world’s waterways are primed and ready for long-range autonomy.

The Machine Odyssey will depart from Hamburg, Germany, on 30 September, with full onboard vessel control managed by autonomous technology, while operating under the authority of commanding officers located in the United States. The selected vessel, a modern ubiquitous tug designed and built by Damen Shipyards of the Netherlands, is named Nellie Bly.

This voyage will prove to the world, and specifically to the thousands of global companies that operate the fleets of cargo ships, tugs, ferries and the many other types of commercial workboats, that operators can integrate autonomous technology into their vessel operations for a host of technology-driven benefits, from enhanced safety and reliability to leaps in productivity and new on-water capabilities. Machine Odyssey marks a new era in the human-technology relationship propelling on-sea operations in the 21st century.

At the helm will be the Sea Machines SM300 autonomy system, which will also utilize the latest in Sea Machines’ industry-leading, long-range computer vision. The SM300 is a comprehensive sensor-to-propeller autonomy system that uses advanced path-planning, obstacle avoidance replanning, vectored nautical chart data and dynamic domain perception, all to control a voyage from start to finish. The SM300 provides the remote human commanders with an active chart environment with live augmented overlays showing the mission, state of vessel, situational awareness and environmental data, as well as real-time, vessel-born audio and video from many streaming cameras.

Marine fleets operate in our planet’s most lively and often potent environment where the direct forces on vessels regularly exceed those ever experienced by machines on road, air or space. Safety of ship, crew and cargo is paramount within the Sea Machines’ autonomy stack, with protection behaviors that enable the industry to optimize operations with assurance and an exacting balance of safety, productivity and efficiency.

The project is named The Machine Odyssey – which translates to a long purpose-driven and eventful journey and harks to Homer’s Odyssey, which for millennia has inspired humanity by Ulysses’ and his crew’s courage to undertake a voyage of discovery and adventure. This in many ways exemplifies the attitude and journey of an American venture-backed, deep-tech startup such as Sea Machines. The selected vessel, a modern ubiquitous tug designed and built by Damen Shipyards of the Netherlands, is named the Nellie Bly, paying homage to the American journalist, industrialist, inventor and charity worker who was widely known for her ultra-bold and record-breaking solo trip around the world in 72 days.