autonomous boats

5 Aspects of Technology in Autonomous Boats in 2018

The concept of autonomous boats is gaining immense popularity due to its application and usefulness in the field of marine trade. With the rapid development of technology, it is imperative to bring about big changes in the marine trading industry as well. Autonomous boats are operated with the help of AI technology and various developed software.

Technology is the soul of autonomous boats, but it is important to understand the impact this tech will have on the marine trading industry and its effects on the functions of the boat. Here we take a look at 5 such aspects of technology in autonomous boats:

1. Technology in Navigation

For an autonomous boat to function impeccably, it is important that the boat be fitted with the latest navigation technology to ensure a safer and efficient service. Navigation helps the boat reach the desired destination faster, without obstacles, saves fuel and avoids collisions and marine traffic. The boats must include technology like Satellite Tracking, LIDAR, Advanced Radar, Thermal Imaging, infrared cameras, SONAR.

    • Satellite Tracking includes tracking devices to be installed in the boat and its cargo to enable the controllers to keep a track of where the boat is at all times.
    • The Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) technology is a detection system, which is much like radar but uses laser lights. The LIDAR is helpful in measuring ranges and consists of a scanner, laser and a GPS receiver.
    • The Advanced Radar detects boats and land within a longer range. It is also used to track the positions of boats in an area. It is a mandatory navigational aid and would benefit the autonomous boats to avoid collisions and plan routes.
    • Thermal Imaging and Infrared Cameras in boats have become a popular concept now for quite a few years. The vast amount of machinery on board a boat cannot necessarily be inspected by man. Even though the machines might look in a good shape, it is imperative to check if they have even the slightest error in them. This can be done with the help of thermography and infrared cameras. The tiniest cracks and minute defects in the pipes of the machines are brought to attention with the help of this technology. Scanning the machinery via thermal imaging ensures that all the machinery on the boat is fully functional before the boat embarks upon the voyage.
    • SONAR uses sound propagation to navigate its way through the sea. Since the autonomous boats will be unmanned, it is important to have SONAR technology on the boat. It will be easier to keep track of the boat and the boats around it so that the controller will successfully navigate the boat to its destination.

2. Propulsion

Ships are launched at sea, most commonly with the help of liquid fuels.  Using diesel as a propulsion fuel creates toxic by-products and is harmful to the marine life. To ensure an eco-friendly and safe approach to propulsion of the autonomous boats, a couple of alternative propulsion techniques must be adopted. These are:

  • Electric: Electric propulsion was initially used in smaller vessels but now it is used in bigger cargo boats as well. Electric propulsion makes use of diesel-driven systems and turbine or steam-driven systems.  Both these systems provide effective propulsion and produce less pollution as compared to the conventional propulsion techniques.
  • Wind Assisted: The wind-assisted propulsion aims to decrease fuel consumption by installing wind capturing devices and sails on the boats. The wind on the sea is harnessed by the sails thus propelling the vessel forward. A few changes have to be made in the design of the boat. Other than that, this is the most efficient and pollution free propulsion technique.

3. Maintenance

The maintenance of the machinery aboard the autonomous boat can be carried out by robots. The specially designed robot crawler cleans the underside of the boat enabling it to move efficiently through the water. The robot is only half a meter in length. Its compact size enables it to clean parts of boat that are unreachable for the humans. Moreover, with these roots there is no need to dock the boat to clean it. The robot cleans the underside of the boat as it moves through water. Hull-cleaning robots and other maintenance robots are also being developed to thoroughly clean the boat.

4. Security

Security is one of the core requirements for any system. Security measures have to be selected carefully to ensure safety in installing and establishing new technology on the boats. Automation in boats minimizes the manual labour required aboard the boats. Hence the security operations will be carried out by machines. The security measures also need to be fool-proof and smart, keeping the technology safe from outside interventions. If the security measures aboard an autonomous boat are impeccable, then its efficiency will be unparalleled. Some of the IoT systems used to maintain security aboard boats are:

  • Use of Big Data: Big data is a trending technology in the IT sector and is conquering the world due to its advanced analytical result generating capability. Use of big data on boats includes giving out an analytical report of the data collected from various sensors. This will add to the security of the boat.
  • Anti-piracy Robots: Security equipment include anti piracy robots that can be fired from a distance of 120 feet. The robots can be controlled by a joystick and are small in size. The equipment has cameras fixed onto it which keeps eye on the deck for piracy issues.
  • Fire Fighting Robots: Fire fighting robots are designed not to replace humans, but to cooperate with human fire-fighters to ease their work. These robots detect high temperatures and can perform activities like turning on alarms and putting water on fire. It can see through smoke due its IR and UV cameras and can detect survivors in the fire. It can also track the source of the fire. It also responds to human commands and gestures.

 5. Communication and Connectivity

Since the autonomous boats will be operated by personnel on the shore and not aboard the boat, it is important for the boat to be continuously connected with the command centre. If there is uninterrupted communication between the boat and the controller, only then will the autonomous boats be fully successful.

  • Radio Communication: This has been the basic and most efficient way to establish communication in boat-to-boat or boat-to shore. 
  • Emergency Communication: The Global Maritime Distress Safety System has divided the whole world into 4 geographical divisions- A1, A2, A3 and A4 for emergency cases. In cases of sea emergencies, Radio beacons are used. Radio beacons are devices that alert search and rescue services. At least one Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) device is mandatory on every boat.


These are the five principal aspects where technology plays an important role in shipping. Autonomous boats need to ensure that all these aspects are taken care of, to ensure efficient operation and maximum efficiency and security.

There was a time when manually operated ships were the pinnacle of technology used for trade and travel. Today, the use of AI and technology in shipping is paving way for safer seafaring with better insights to avoid disasters. As we enter these uncharted waters, what do you think will be the effects of such revolutionary technological leaps on the maritime industry as well as on shipping safety as a whole?

Let us know in the comments section below!

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