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Can a boat drive itself?

As marine insurers we’re pretty big (okay, very big) on safety. So we were excited to see that a startup in the US is working on developing an autopilot system for recreational boaters that reacts to dangerous situations before they even occur.

Boating accidents cost Australians millions every year, and unfortunately, many of these can be fatal. We are a culture that loves the water, and our weather gives us the perfect opportunity to enjoy it nearly all year round.

So anything that enables us to enjoy this pastime in a safer way is pretty cool in our books.

How it works

The autopilot system is designed to pre-emptively respond to hazards before they occur. This means that unlike most boat safety mechanisms, it is proactive rather than reactive.

Although the prototype is still in development, we do know that:

  • It’s planned to work with boats that are 40+ feet long.
  • Cameras and sensors monitor external conditions, including the weather and obstacles that may be found in the water.
  • These sensors and cameras compare data, in real-time, with static information such as nautical charts.
  • If a threat is detected the system adjusts the course of the boat automatically.
  • The captain can override this function, if necessary.
  • If that isn’t enough, the captain can also log into the system via a laptop or smartphone and program a destination. Yes, that means the boat can be guided from A to B, without a driver, using the fastest possible route.

Who is the inventor?

Undergraduate students Shane Nolan and Thiru Vikram from the University at Buffalo lead a team of 300 undergraduate researchers. The students began researching the idea as part of their study, and then saw market value in the project.

To see the prototype in action head here.

If you need support with finding affordable marine insurance, or want to compare your current policy with more competitive alternatives, please contact our marine underwriters. (Or help these guys along with their design!)