In the past few years however things have been progressing at an incredible pace, to the extent that driverless cars, trucks and trains are now almost an inevitability.
Researchers at the Buffalo Automation Group, which is a spin-out from the University of Buffalo, have been testing an automated catamaran.
“The success we’ve had illustrates there is a market for safe, highly-effective and easy-to-use marine autopilot systems that provide recreational boat owners with well-deserved peace of mind,” the company says.
The motivation for the project was to improve safety on our waters, with hundreds of deaths each year in recreational boating accidents.
Improving on autopilot
Of course, many boats already have an autopilot feature, but this is largely a reactive system. So, for instance, they might react to a change in tide or wind, but the researchers wanted to do better.
They wanted to develop a predictive system that was complete with sensors, cameras and wireless comms. The system will take real time data about the weather, obstacles in the water and so on, and combine that with static data such as nautical charts to understand the environment the boat is in.
“Essentially, you will connect your smartphone or laptop to the system. From there, you use your device to tell the system where you’d like to go. It then guides the boat, from port to port, using the safest, most efficient route possible,” the team say.
The project is a nice example of the academic potential of co-working spaces that I wrote about earlier this year. The team are located at the tenX facility under the watchful guidance of Bina Ramanurthy from the University of Buffalo.
The team won the inaugural Buffalo Student Sandbox innovation contest this summer that helped to both affirm the potential of the project and provide extra funding for their work.
The next stage is to further refine the technology before hopefully partnering with manufacturers, retailers, and of course, investors to bring the product to market.
It’s certainly a cool concept. Check out the video the team made below for more information on the product.