Autonomous boats have many names: roboats, unmanned surface vessels, unmanned surface vehicles, and self-steering boats. It is the same thing. Autonomous robots are simply a variant of autonomous robots operating on the water’s surface.
There are many use cases for autonomous boats:
We focus on autonomous boats without GPS – not on maritime ships or large vessels. The article below discusses self-steering boats working in channels, tunnels, indoors, and 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 to be autonomous:
Since crewless surface vehicles interact with the world and users and perform some practical tasks; they also have to be capable of the following:
Autonomous boats get tasks from the end users or operators or larger ships and perform their tasks autonomously based on the localization systems and obstacle detection and avoidance systems. They rely on the controllers and processors, memory, and programs to operate with the rules. They are indeed simply a subset of autonomous robots.
Thus, like any autonomous robot, autonomous boats have sensors, processors, and actuators.
Self-steering boats are typical autonomous robots but on the water surface.
There are many other ways for localization, for example, LIDARs. But those are not recommended for the boat positioning because:
Cameras seem to be better than LIDARs, in theory. But in practice, still, robust and precise positioning based on cameras is very challenging to implement, and their performance is heavily affected by lighting conditions, water reflections, fog, and rain.
When GPS/GLONASS/Galileo/Beidou is available, navigation of autonomous boats is a relatively straightforward task, particularly when some flavors of RTK GPS are available. But it is a significantly more challenging task in GPS/GNSS denied areas, for example:
Even when GPS is available, RTK GPS is not available, but an autonomous boat must dock with a moving ship.
Another type of problem arises when several boats must move 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 indoors, it can work indoors and outdoors. But most outdoor navigation systems, for example, GPS, can’t work indoors because GPS satellites’ radio signal doesn’t propagate through walls or ceilings.
Navigation for autonomous boats without GPS relies on one of the types of real-time locating systems (RTLS). Such a system doesn’t substantially differ from a similar RTLS system for autonomous robots or AGVs.
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 – the system’s central controller. Though the self-steering boats will be remotely controlled, it doesn’t make them non-autonomous. They will remain autonomous. Their central controller will be outside of their main body.
If mobile beacons are NOT exposed to water or dust, or mist:
In this case, tracking boats is not different from the tracking robots/AGVs/vehicles in 2D. Check the Robotics page for more details. In short:
For the most recommended configuration for your particular case with your specific requirements, please email us at email@example.com.
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 of exposure to water or rain splashes. The IPxx certificate doesn’t say anything about prolonged exposure or exposure to something that is not clean, fresh water, for example, dirty, oily, salty water, snow, etc.
Yes, the IPxx devices will likely survive those exposures as well. But no guarantees. That is an open secret with all IPxx fine prints. Be aware and be realistic with expectations.
What to do?