Huntington Ingalls Invests in Vessel Autonomy Startup

File image courtesy Sea Machines

Published Jul 22, 2020 2:04 PM by The Maritime Executive

Huntington Ingalls Industries has made a significant bet on autonomous vessel technology by participating in a new $15 million financing round for Boston-based autonomy startup Sea Machines. 
HII is the the biggest military shipbuilder in the United States, and it fulfills a critical function for the U.S. Navy. It is one of the two shipbuilders for the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer series, one of two American nuclear-powered sub builders and the world's only builder of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. As the Navy is increasingly interested in smaller, unmanned platforms as a means to reduce cost and increase fleet size, investment in autonomous technology aligns HII with its client's long-term objectives. 

“This investment represents our commitment to advanced innovation and competencies across the unmanned systems market,” said Andy Green, executive vice president and president of technical solutions, HII. “Sea Machines is making significant strides in the unmanned surface vessel (USV) industry. We want to invest in their growth and continue to form complementary partnerships across this key domain.”

According to Sea Machines, the $15 million funding round marks one of the largest venture rounds for an advanced technology company serving the marine and maritime industries. Other participants included Toyota AI Ventures, Brunswick Corp., NextGen Venture Partners and others. 

“This reinforces Sea Machines’ position as the leading developer of autonomous navigation and wireless vessel control systems,” said Michael G. Johnson, CEO of Sea Machines. “Our ability to secure significant financing during a challenging economic environment is an indicator of investors’ confidence in our ability to reshape and retool the marine industries with modern-day, advanced technologies. And being selected as technology partner by HII, a leader in every right, further affirms our course in product and market approach.”

Among other products, Sea Machines makes standardized, modular systems for remote vessel control and/or autonomous control. These systems are designed to be installed on both newbuilds and existing hulls, and the company says that the payback time for a commercial vessel can be less than a year for a retrofit. It is also a leading developer of advanced perception and human navigation assistance systems. Since launching its first family of products in late 2018, Sea Machines says that it has deployed systems on large cargo vessels (including an A.P. Moller-Maersk boxship), U.S.-flag ATBs, survey boats, oil-spill response craft, search-and-rescue (SAR) craft, patrol boats and crew transfer vessels.

“We are entering a phase of growth and universal interest like what was witnessed in the self-driving automotive space starting five years ago, but the difference being that marine self-piloting systems are already operationally deployed. We expect to see broad adoption of autonomous technology on water ahead of that on roads," said Johnson.