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Charting the Future: Keith Henderson on Robosys Automation's Revolutionary Maritime Autonomy

Director Keith Henderson Discusses the Revolutionary VOYAGER AI Software and Its Impact on the Maritime Industry

The maritime industry is in a technological revolution, driven by advancements in artificial intelligence and automation. Today we’ll talk about Robosys Automation, a company with two decades of expertise in AI-powered maritime autonomy and smart shipping solutions. Technews180 had the opportunity to speak with Keith Henderson, the Director of Robosys Automation, to explore how their groundbreaking VOYAGER AI software is transforming both new and existing vessels into fully autonomous Uncrewed Surface Vessels (USVs).

Henderson elaborates on the key features, benefits, and future potential of this innovative technology, shedding light on how Robosys Automation is steering the maritime industry towards a more efficient, safe, and sustainable future.

In our discussion, Keith detailed the robust functionality of the VOYAGER AI, which integrates seamlessly with various onboard systems to provide autonomous navigation, collision avoidance, and dynamic route optimization. He also highlighted the software's scalability, from remote control to full autonomy, and its compliance with international maritime regulations.

[Neil Hodgson-Coyle] Can you describe how your AI software transformed existing vessels into fully autonomous uncrewed surface vessels and the key features that enable this transformation?

[Keith Henderson] Well, our system works fully autonomously. A basic element of our system are S57 electronic charts; added to that are a variety of sensors like radar, AIS, and ARPA. You could also add a visual recognition of possible hazards, and fuse all that information into a single map. This map is used for planning the route from A to B and recommends how the vessel should steer. Of course, it should avoid fixed hazards but also dynamic hazards.

So, you plan the route, and set off on the route, but on that route, you may have to change it because there are other vessels coming which you have to give way to. Even if you have the right of way and the other vessels should give way, there may be a situation where you get closer and closer to a collision. Then it becomes obvious the other vessel, which should give way, is not giving way, it's also your duty to avoid the collision. So, you have to change course to prevent a collision.

[Neil Hodgson-Coyle] What are the main benefits of autonomous maritime solutions for commercial and defense applications?

[Keith Henderson] Well, I guess safety and consistency. Our system guides the vessel in a manner which follows the IMO collision regulations. For example, boats on a head-on collision course should both turn to starboard. Sometimes, in certain circumstances, it might appear more logical to go to port, but that is not in accordance with the collision regulations. So, we give consistency of results. The movement of the vessels also depends on the type of vessel.
For example, if the vessel is fishing or like a trawler pulling nets, it has restricted maneuverability, therefore, even though it may appear that you have the right of way, if the other vessel is hindered in their movement, we have to show good seamanship and avoid making the other vessel maneuver because they may not be able to do so.

To answer the second part of the question – defence applications. Without going into details, we sometimes summarise it with the expression, what’s dirty, dull or dangerous; it is advantageous to remove the crew from the situation and let the machine do the job!

[Neil Hodgson-Coyle] How does your technology integrate with other systems on a vessel?

[Keith Henderson] Basically, it fully integrates. We are a software company, not a hardware company, and we're therefore hardware agnostic. We can use different brands of radar, controlling steering systems, hydraulic or electric steering, and then the engines themselves—the propulsion control.

You can also control these engines using various methods. There are sometimes a few which are incompatible, or proprietary systems where the manufacturers do not want to share, therefore, it becomes very difficult to control them, and it may be necessary to go for a different brand of engine, but in general, we can work with most systems.

[Neil Hodgson-Coyle] What role does sustainability play in product development, and how do your solutions contribute to reducing the maritime industry's carbon footprint?

[Keith Henderson] When it comes to carbon footprint, we can optimize the routing of the vessel, which inevitably reduces fuel consumption, therefore fuel used, and therefore emissions created. It will soon be possible to opt for minimum emissions in the creation of the route, but you instruct the vessel to operate at the most efficient speed possible.

At present, that's not always done. It's the captain who decides ultimately what speed he wants to go to; he has slots and deadlines to meet and that influences the vessel speed and ETA. We do have the possibility of recommending the most efficient speed, and that can be done.

[Neil Hodgson-Coyle] Okay, and the last question I had was how do you see the future of maritime autonomy evolving over the next five years regarding technology, regulations or any area?

[Keith Henderson] Well, I think technology is quite a bit ahead of regulations, and there are limitations in what is allowed from the point of view of regulations, but it's technically very possible. Just as an example, we have done installations where the reliability of the system was a very high priority. Instead of just having a standard single system, we had duplication so that if one of the systems fails, there is a parallel computer. They are linked, and the other computer would detect if the primary computer fails and automatically jump in and take over command.

We also offer as an option in our system, a thing called a Loss-of-Comms module, loss of communications. If the vessel is being remotely piloted from a shore station or mothership, and the radio signal or satellite signal is lost, then the vessel takes over command itself and steers the vessel back to a safe rendezvous point as prescribed.

Depending on where the failure took place, if it's further away from the home base than another base ahead, it would automatically go on to the next base, or it could turn around and reverse track back to the original base. Of course, when it's driving, it would guard against possible collisions by the autonomous nature of the control system, which has things like radar. If it detects a collision course, it would automatically avoid the danger. Another example is going over a sandbank with very shallow water; it would automatically avoid that without any further intervention from the controller.

Conclusion

As maritime autonomy continues to evolve, Robosys Automation's VOYAGER AI stands out as a pioneering solution, setting new standards for safety, efficiency, and sustainability. Keith Henderson's insights reveal a future where autonomous vessels are not just a possibility but a practical reality, capable of transforming the maritime landscape. With ongoing advancements and a commitment to innovation, Robosys Automation is poised to lead the industry into a new era of smart shipping and maritime autonomy.

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