Damen and Sea Machines Aim to Accelerate Adoption of Autonomous Ships

autonomous shipping
Rendering of a "smart bridge," in which a mariner takes a remote supervisor role. (Damen)

Published Feb 11, 2021 2:00 PM by The Maritime Executive

Momentum is continuing to grow for the adoption of autonomous technologies to enhance the safety and operations of ships. In the latest step to accelerate the deployment of these technologies into commercial shipping, Damen Shipyard and Sea Machines Robotics entered into a strategic alliance to further investigate the adoption of autonomous technologies starting with collision avoidance functionality. They plan to initially incorporate the technology into a broad range of ships, including workboats, patrol vessels, tugboats, crew transfer vessels, and ferries built by Damen.

Over the last four years, the Damen Shipyards Group notes that it has been investing in autonomous shipping technologies, participating in several joint industry projects to research the readiness level of the technologies. The new alliance aims at speeding up the adoption of several navigation technologies to increase autonomy levels on Damen-built vessels.

“We don’t so much see autonomous ships as unmanned ‘ghost’ vessels, plowing the oceans in silence,” said Toine Cleophas, research manager at Damen. “We foresee ships where a number of tasks are automated, allowing the crew to have a more focused approach to those tasks that still require the human element, such as the various activities that take place when the vessel arrives in the port. In some situations, a fully autonomous ship may be required, in other cases only parts of the activities will be automated to support the onboard crew, thereby increasing safety and efficiency.”

Damen will first adopt Sea Machines’ SM300 autonomous-command and remote-helm control technology in its test environment. According to Damen, this will make it possible to predict the integration complexity and system performance on any kind of vessel. By adopting this solution in software models, a digital twin of the ship becomes reality and will display the benefits of autonomous technology even before it is installed onboard.



The Sea Machine collision avoidance system can support the crew in a variety of ways. The SM300 system puts the navigator in a supervisory role, allowing him to multitask or even rest, while the ship sails its route and avoids collisions based on COLREG. By using multiple sensors in the system, such as radar and cameras, and combining this with machine learning algorithms, the system uses artificial intelligence to recognize objects and maneuver the ship safely to its destination.

“The Damen-Sea Machines alliance sends a clear signal to the industry that autonomous marine technology is rapidly gaining adoption and is in-demand among commercial operators,” said Sea Machines’ CEO Michael G. Johnson. “We see a future, where most, if not all, newly constructed vessels will feature autonomous technology as standard.”

The collaboration will also be incorporated in Damen’s R&D program Smart Ship and according to the shipyard will increase customer value by supporting digitalization. Damen has already created a data connection between ship and shore through its Triton program providing ship data to a variety of users, with or without data analytics, paving the way for increased efficiency and sustainability in operations.

In addition to installing the autonomous-command and wireless-helm systems, Damen will train users to operate Sea Machines systems via the company’s in-house simulator. Fully integrated with Sea Machines’ technology, the simulator will generate a realistic marine domain in which employees and the company’s clients can learn to use Sea Machines’ intuitive user interface and become familiar with modern autonomous-command capabilities.