No Captain, No Problem: Self-Driving Boats

RoBoats on Angle Lake
Imagine if everyone could get around the lake easily and safely, without tired, distracted or inebriated drivers. Time spent boating could be time spent visiting instead. With robot operated boats (aka: RoBoats) that concept is rapidly becoming a reality!

RoBoats Are No Longer Merely Fantasy

Driverless Vessels on Angle Lake?
At a recent Study Session, science guy Bill Nye asked the SeaTac City Council if it would be feasible for “autonomous” or driverless vehicles controlled by computer program and not operated by a human being to begin functioning on Angle Lake. 

This is not about a “science project,” Nye said, but about discovering the reality of such future development, “will people buy into this,” adding that “safety is very important to us” and that test vehicles will be certified and marine legal. SeaTac, said Nye, could be a “center for excellence” with such a study that eventually could get federal or other grants and open additional development possibilities.

While other ‘driverless’ studies for cars is ongoing nationally, the opportunity exists for SeaTac to become among the first in the nation for recreational pilotless seafaring vessels. Council members agreed that it would be really cool to hop onto a self driving boat from the park and go for a nice sunset cruise around the lake. 

How it works
The actual idea of a vessel without crew is not new. As far back as 1973, Rolf Schonknecht, in his book ‘Ships and Shipping of Tomorrow’, envisaged a future where a ship’s captain could performed his duties in an office building onshore, while an on-board computer navigated the ship. Nye stated “We’re building a safer boat captain that is always alert and never distracted. Our fully self-driving technology will handle all boat operations so you can go from dock to dock without ever having to take the wheel.”
Trial Participants Out For An Enjoyable Boat Ride

The vessels are equipped with radar and software that are designed to detect swimmers, kayakers, paddle boarders, water fowl, other boats and more from a distance of up to two hundred yards away in all directions. Imagine if you will the following situation; our vehicle is about to drive straight across the lake surrounded by many other objects nearby, including a kayaker up ahead. The boat sensors observe that the kayaker has extended their left arm. Detecting the kayaker’s hand signal, our onboard software predicts that the kayaker will move to the left side of our path of travel. Our software then plans for our boat to slow down and make room for the kayaker to pass safely and comfortably ahead of us. Our boats sensors and software detect and predict the behavior of not only the kayaker, but of all the lake traffic and swimmers around us. 

This autonomous technology relies on over 2 million terrestrial miles of real world experience collected from driverless street vehicle testing and has taught boats to navigate safely and comfortably through everyday marine traffic. The self driving boats will operate safely through many complex scenarios in real open water situations and can adjust to unexpected changing conditions like floating debris or obstructions and respond to complex cues at docks and boat ramps. We’ve also taught our boats to drive defensively, so they try to stay out of blind spots and nudge away from larger vessels or groups of swimmers. The first autonomous vessels are set to make their debut trial run Sunday, April 16th during the ALSC Easter Bunny Dock Hop. 

During the six month trial period all residents and visitors using the lake will be required to wear a transponder jacket.  This will ensure that the self driving boat sensors can accurately detect objects in the water as an added safety precaution. Vests will be available for check out through the SeaTac Parks Department by contacting Lawrence Ellis at (206) 973-4681.
Safety Sensors Vests Must Be Worn At All Times While On The Lake

Anyone discovered on the lake without a vest will receive an initial warning and be asked to leave the area. Subsequent failures will result in a fine of up to $250.00.  “Sure the fine seems a little steep” Ellis stated, “But it’s for the public’s own safety and the funds will help cover any damages that may result during the trial”. The results of the trial period tests will be reviewed at the September Regular Council Meeting.


(Postscript:  This is an April Fools Joke)

1 comment:

jim todd said...

Isn't technology wonderful! Soon we will be able to waste gas without getting anywhere! And no one will get a Bui!