Buffalo Automation Group, a robotics startup, is developing technology to create autonomous boats similar to Google’s driverless cars.
The company was founded last year by three undergraduate engineering students: Thiru Vikram, Shane Nolan and Alex Zhitelzeyf from the University at Buffalo. Since its formation, the company has successfully tested its technology on a 16-foot catamaran, and has also filed two provisional patent applications.
According to U.S. Coast Guard data, each year, recreational boating accidents cause hundreds of fatalities and thousands of injuries nationwide. With an intention of reducing these numbers, the company is developing this technology targeting small yachts and inboard boats up to 40 feet long.
“These are vessels that are big enough for a family to spend anywhere from a few days to a few weeks on the water. But they’re often too small to hire a crew, or even a junior captain, so the captain must keep constant vigil over the boat,” said Nolan.
Many of these conventional boats have an autopilot option. But, the problem is that these systems are reactive, meaning that they respond only after the boat senses a change in tide, wind or other conditions.
However, Buffalo Automation Group is developing predictive software that uses a combination of sensors, cameras and wireless communication systems. The system fuses real-time data, such as weather conditions and obstacles in the water (boats, swimmers, logs, etc.), with nautical charts and other static information to preempt any threats to the boat and its course of direction.
Designed for new and used vessels, the system would dock the boat and allow the captain, at any time, to easily regain control over the boat. It also has the potential to reduce insurance costs.
Zhitelzeyf asserted that, “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.”
Excerpts and image courtesy of the University at Buffalo/video courtesy of Buffalo Automation Group