Startup company Sea Machines developing self-driving technology for which can be added to traditional boats


Boston-based startup Sea Machines is developing autonomous technologies that will enable traditional boats to become self-driving vessels. 

The company says its development heralds a smarter, safer and more efficient era of marine operations brought forward through self-aware and self-driving boats and ships.

With autonomy readily making its way into many traditional land-based and airborne sectors, the massive marine domain is even better suited for autonomous systems with fewer barriers to entry, a high risk operating environment, and an accommodating regulatory space.

More than 20 million vessels are plying the world’s waters including 15 million recreational boats and 100,000 cargo ships; Sea Machines foresees autonomy disrupting this largely manual sector and rapidly developing into a $60 billion space. 

The founder of Sea Machines, Michael Johnson, says: “The transition of one of the world’s oldest forms of transportation to autonomous operation is inevitable and necessary.

“Sea Machines provides systems that give real and immediate value to vessel operators by increasing safety and efficiency. And our technology will facilitate entirely new oceanic applications, enabling better use of the seas to accommodate a growing world.”

Sea Machines claims its autonomous technology will “contribute to advancing society” because of the following:

  • The technology will “eliminate” everyday boating accidents and shipwrecks through the use of self-aware self-driving navigation;
  • It will increase commercial marine productivity by automating vessel tasks;
  • It will further safety of personnel by using unmanned vessels to perform work in hazardous environments, like oil spills, marine firefighting, or other high risk operations; and
  • It will enable new remote oceanic industries such as deep sea fish farming and clean energy production.

Sea Machines says the company is led by accomplished marine professionals who are known for their leading roles in major ocean projects such as the mega-salvage of the wrecked Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia.

The technology is currently being tested on commercial vessels in Boston Harbor where Sea Machines has demonstrated remote piloting of an unmanned vessel, unmanned oil spill response, and autonomous waypoint navigation. Upcoming demonstrations include collaborative multi-vessel operations and automated obstacle avoidance.

Over the last two decades, the greater Boston-area has been the birthplace of the world’s leading underwater autonomous vehicle companies, and now Sea Machines is taking the baton to lead the emergence of self-driving surface vessels.

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