SEA-KIT Gears Up for First Ever USV Transatlantic Crossing
UK-based autonomous workboat company SEA-KIT intends to be the first to send an unmanned surface vessel across the Atlantic.
SEA-KIT's vessel, the Maxlimer, recently won the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE competition, working in conjunction with a Kongsberg HUGIN autonomous underwater vehicle. The competition required contestants to carry out high-res autonomous mapping at depths of up to 2000 meters without significant human guidance, and Maxlimer led the field.
In May, in anticipation of what it believes will be the first ever USV transatlantic voyage, the SEA-KIT team sent the Maxlimer to Belgium with a cargo of oysters for customs officers to inspect. The 22-hour trial is believed to be the first commercial crossing of the North Sea with an autonomous surface vessel.
While unmanned and automated, Maxlimer is by no means unsupervised, SEA-KIT says. The small vessel is fitted with cameras, thermal imaging, radar and a fast satellite connection, giving a real-time 360 degree view for the company's shoreside control station. This also helps the autonomous vessel to comply with the COLREGS requirement to maintain a safe lookout. (The firm argues that it even provides a better "out the window" visual picture for situational awareness than may be found on the bridges of some vessels, where structures may obstruct the view astern.) Kongsberg's K-Mate Autonomy Controller system provides the system's navigation and control capabilities.
The Atlantic crossing is scheduled for sometime in the first half of 2020, SEA-KIT COO Neil Tinmouth told The Daily Beast. Since Maxlimer has a range of 12,000 nm with its twin diesel engines, the journey is well within its technical specifications, and it is expected to take about one month to complete the voyage.
SEA-KIT has also established itself as a commercial performer for the subsea industry. Last month it completed an underwater pipeline inspection survey for Swire Seabed for an installation about 50 nm offshore. The company believes it was the first "over the horizon" unmanned subsea inspection campaign of its type. With human remote control on shore, it carried, deployed and recovered a HUGIN AUV to conduct the work, without anyone on board to assist.