Autonomous boats have many names: roboats, unmanned surface vessels, unmanned surface vehicles and self-steering boats. It is the same thing. Autonomous robots are just a variant of autonomous robots operating on the surface of the water.
There are many use cases for autonomous boats:
We clearly focus on autonomous boats without GPS – not on maritime boats or large vessels. The article below discusses self-steering boats working in channels, tunnels, indoor, underground – in any GNSS denied areas – not in the open sea or lakes with easy positioning and navigation using GPS.
Autonomous boats like autonomous robots or self-driving cars rely on several key systems in order to be autonomous:
Since unmanned surface vehicles interact with the world, users, and perform some useful tasks, they also has to be capable of:
Autonomous boats get tasks from the end users or operators or larger ships and perform their tasks autonomously based on the localization systems and systems of obstacle detection and avoidance. They are relying on the controllers and processors, memory and the programs to operate with the given rules. They are indeed simply a subset of autonomous robots.
Thus, like any autonomous robots, autonomous boats have sensors, processors, and actuators.
Self-steering boats are typical autonomous robots, but on the water surface.
There many other ways for localization, for example, LIDARs. But those are not recommended for the boats positioning, because:
Cameras seem to be better than LIDARs in theory. But in practice, still, robust and precise positioning purely based on cameras is very challenging to implement and their performance is heavily affected by lighting conditions, water reflections, fog, rain.
When GPS/GLONASS/Galileo/Beidou is available, navigation of autonomous boats is a relatively straightforward task, particularly, when some flavors of RTK GPS is available. But it is a significantly more challenging task in GPS/GNSS denied areas, for example:
Even when GPS is available, but RTK GPS is not available, but an autonomous boat must dock to a moving ship.
Another type of problems arises when several boats must be moving in sync close to each other maintaining the distances, like swarm boats.
The solution is a real-time locating system (RTLS) or indoor positioning system (IPS), for example, Precise Indoor “GPS” by Marvelmind.
Don’t be confused with the word indoor. If it is indoor, it can work indoor AND outdoor. But the majority of outdoor navigating systems, for example, GPS, can’t work indoor, because GPS satellites’ radio signal doesn’t propagate through walls or ceiling.
Navigation for autonomous boats without GPS relies one of the types of real-time locating system (RTLS). Such a system doesn’t substantially differ from a similar RTLS system for autonomous robots or AGVs, for example.
The RTLS consists of three main elements:
Self-steering boats can get location data, including gyro and accelerometer data from an inertial measurement unit (IMU) directly from the mobile beacon.
Or they can be remotely controlled by an external brain getting their location and IMU data via the modem – central controller of the system. Though the self-steering boats will be remotely controlled, it doesn’t make the boats non-autonomous. They will remain autonomous. Simply their main controller will be outside of their main body.
If mobile beacons are NOT exposed to water or dust:
In this case, tracking of boats is not different from tracking of robots/AGVs/vehicles in 2D. Check the Robotics page for more details. In short:
If mobile beacons are exposed to water or dust:
Then, the recommended configurations are exactly the same, but the mobile beacons shall be Super-Beacons-Outdoor – they are IP protected.
For the most recommended configuration for your particular case with your specific requirements just send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Autonomous boats vs. autonomous wheeled robots/AGVs:
Autonomous boats vs. autonomous drones:
Remember, that the right level of ingress protection guarantees that the devices won’t be killed with a short-time exposure to splashes of water or rain. The IPxx certificate doesn’t say anything about the prolonged exposure, or exposure to something that it is not a clean fresh water, for example, dirty, oily or salty water; or to snow, etc.
Yes, most likely the IPxx devices will survive those exposures as well. But not guarantees. That is an open secret with all IPxx fine prints. Be aware and be realistic with expectations.
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