In October, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Research and Development Center (RDC) kicked off a month-long evaluation of unmanned surface vehicles (USV) and their ability to provide persistent maritime domain awareness in remote areas of the ocean. Supporting the Oahu, Hawaii, event, Sea Machines partnered with shipbuilder Metal Shark Boats, of Jeanerette, Louisiana, to supply a new Sharktech 29 Defiant vessel offering a full range of advanced capabilities, from transit autonomy and collaborative autonomy to collision avoidance and remote vessel monitoring.
According to a USCG press release, the purpose of the testing was to examine “the operational utility of the [unmanned surface vessel] USV, including feasibility, costs and benefits. While potentially applicable to many Coast Guard missions, there is potential these technologies will help enable the Coast Guard to better protect critical natural living marine resources from Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated [IUU] fishing and other illicit activities.”
Whereas the other two USV systems in the demonstration were contractor-owned and -operated, the RDC purchased the Sharktech 29’ Defiant vessel in an effort to learn more about autonomous command and remote control, USV maintenance and current constraints through hands-on operations with actual Coast Guard operators. The welded-aluminum monohull pilothouse vessel arrived in Hawaii prior to the event equipped with the Sea Machines SM300 autonomous-command and remote-helm control system.
RDC crew boarded the vessel and operated Sea Machines’ SM300 autonomous-command system in real time on the water. Planned exercises included transit and grid autonomy missions, as well as an observance of the system’s obstacle detection and collision avoidance feature. Operators saw how Sea Machines executes with human-like behavior, intelligently factoring in environmental and sea conditions, and the system’s ability to autonomously change speeds between waypoints. Especially important to the USCG, Sea Machines enables optionally manned or autonomous-assist (reduced crew) modes that can reduce mission delays and maximize effort — a critical feature for time-sensitive operations, such as on-water search-and-rescues or other urgent missions.
USCG operators also donned Sea Machines’ wireless beltpack and remote-commanded the autonomous vessel from both inside the wheelhouse and from the shore. This exercise also allowed the test crew to use the beltpack controls to engage on-board payloads, including vessel sensors and other equipment. Sea Machines’ commercial wireless helm control system can be operated from a distance of one kilometer.
Sea Machines’ Chris Spagna, marine controls engineer (shown above), supported the demonstrations on-site. In observance of the event, he said: “We introduced a lot of new users to the SM300 during the demo week. It was rewarding and fun to watch their reactions to driving a boat via remote control or from their office.”
While Sea Machines has bid aloha to Hawaii, it’s clear that our work with the USCG will continue. Following the event, the Sharktech autonomous vessel was returned to the RDC’s New London facility for additional testing. The RDC will soon publish a report with recommendations for potential future actions for the Coast Guard.
Sea Machines appreciates the opportunity to participate in this important demonstration.