Autonomous shipping: first autonomous vessel crosses North Sea

autonomous shipping
© iStock/jayfish

An autonomous marine vessel has successfully completed the journey between the UK and Belgium with a cargo of oysters.

The USV Maxlimer, developed by maritime technology provider SEA-KIT International Ltd and built by boat manufacturer Hushcraft Ltd, made the 22-hour journey last week between West Mersea in Essex, UK, where the vessel was built; and the port of Oostende in Belgium. It carried a five-kilogram box of oysters, though it is capable of carrying a maximum payload of 2.5 tons. The project, designed as a demonstration of SEA-KIT’s capabilities, went ahead with support from the UK’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency, Department for Transport, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; the European Space Agency; and partners in Belgium.

Autonomous shipping carries the dual benefits of being less costly than manned operations and carrying a substantially decreased risk to human safety. The vessel deployed GPS positioning and satellite communication to keep its operators appraised of its position and avoid other vessels. The operating crew used Global Situational Awareness via Internet (G-SAVI) technology, which enabled them to remotely access a CCTV feed, thermal data and radar; as well as communicate with surrounding vessels.

Ben Simpson of SEA-KIT International Ltd said: “This voyage has been months in the making; and to see it all come together today is amazing. It demonstrates not only the capacity of SEA-KIT and the robustness of the design, but the value and effectiveness of the cloud-based communications technologies involved in unmanned transit. SEA-KIT is a fundamentally versatile model. Its potential lies in its ability to be adapted to a range of tasks, whether it be transit, hydrographic surveys, environmental missions, or marine safety and security. We’re tremendously excited to push the technology to its limits and see what we can achieve.”

In the wake of its successful autonomous shipping endeavour, SEA-KIT intends to conduct further tests to gauge the full capabilities of the vessel.

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