Sea Machines Robotics has completed the world’s first 1000+-nautical-mile autonomous and remotely commanded journey of a commercial vessel at sea. The tug Nellie Bly completed this journey using bio-fuel and was commanded by US Coast Guard-licensed mariners remotely stationed 3000 miles away in Boston.

Under the project name The Machine Odyssey, the autonomous tug Nellie Bly completed its journey in 129 operational hours over thirteen days.

The Nellie Bly employed first-of-its-kind aritficial intelligence (AI) enabled, long-range computer vision and a sensor-to-propeller autonomy system, the Sea Machines SM300. Its technical features allowed for path-planning, active domain perception, dynamic obstacle and traffic avoidance and replanning, depth sensing, and fusion of vectored nautical chart data. 96.9 per cent of the 1027 mile journey was accomplished under fully autonomous control and the SM300 successfully executed 31 collision-avoidance and traffic separation manoeuvres.

Also read: Tug Nellie Bly autonomously completes first leg and arrives in Copenhagen

Multi-sensor fusion

Using multi-sensor fusion, the system digitally perceived over 12,000 square miles of ocean space more accurately and comprehensively than comparable human operators. According to Sea Machines, the operation demonstrates that with this technology, the world’s fleets can ply the oceans in a more predictable and safer manner, while optimising the global supply chain by delivering a greatly more efficient and productive means of transportation than what exists today.

Throughout the voyage, the tug averaged a speed of 7.9 knots. Sea Machines garnered 3.8 TB of essential operational data showcasing how the ships can readily connect as Internet of Things systems into the cloud economy. The SM300 also provided the remote commanders in Boston with an active chart of the environment and live augmented overlays showing the progress of the mission, state of the vessel, situational awareness of the domain, real-time vessel-borne audio, and video from many streaming cameras.

The route completed by the Nellie Bly.

‘Autonomy is taking hold faster on the waterways than it is on roadways,’ says Michael Johnson, CEO of Sea Machines. ‘Our autonomous systems are already supporting vessel operations around the world in manned and unmanned capacities. We are rapidly retooling the marine industries with an advanced perception, self-piloting system, and connected vessel intelligence. The Machine Odyssey was a success and we believe we will soon see autonomy become commonplace.’


To reduce the number of harmful emissions produced as it achieved the world record for the longest autonomous mission at sea, Sea Machines Robotics used renewable Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO) bio-fuel, sourced by Bunker One in Denmark, to power its autonomous Nellie Bly tugboat.

Sea Machines refuelled Nellie Bly with fossil-free bio-fuel in Klintholm, Hundested, Skagen and Fredericia, Denmark. By the time the vessel reached its final destination in Hamburg, Nellie Bly had used approximately 4000 litres of bio-fuel, accounting for around seventy per cent of the fuel used for the trip. Sea Machines says that using HVO bio-fuel reduces harmful emissions by ninety per cent.

Also read: Rolls-Royce and Sea Machines strike deal to cooperate on autonomous ship control