Foss to Operate Autonomous Harbor Tug
Foss Maritime’s newest vessel will be the first U.S.-flag harbor tug to integrate autonomous systems in real-world commercial operations.
Launched on April 29 and scheduled for delivery in May 2021, the newly built 90-ton bollard pull Rachael Allen—the fourth in a series of ASD-90 Z-drive tractor tugs being built at Nichols Brothers Boat Builders, in Freeland, Wash.—will feature Sea Machines Robotics’ SM300 autonomous-command and -control system. The system's capabilities include transit autonomy, as well as remote access of the tugboat’s onboard machinery, a feature that allows personnel to manage and support operations from anywhere on board the vessel or from shore. Navigation obstacle detection and avoidance capabilities also come standard.
Once delivered, the groundbreaking 100-foot-long tug will be deployed in California, where it will provide tanker escort and ship assists. And while the Rachael Allen will be delivered with the SM300 and supporting hardware fully integrated, the capability of the technology will be activated in stepped phases over the course of six to nine months to ensure full visibility and acceptance from all operational stakeholders, Sea Machines said.
“Foss is leveraging Sea Machines’ cutting-edge technology to take on the routine work and allow crew to focus on higher-level tasks and improve safety, while also increasing productivity and efficiency during harbor operations,” said Will Roberts, Foss president and CEO. “Foss prides itself on always offering customers safe and innovative solutions, and this is one more way that we are delivering on that promise.”
Capitalizing on Sea Machines’ remote command and control capabilities, Foss will use its existing Fleet Monitoring Center personnel to monitor the tugboat’s systems and operating domain via streaming video and sensor data. According to Sea Machines, its system enables an extra set of eyes and hands to have access to vessel command and control, allowing Foss and the Rachael Allen crew to maximize productive time, safety and crew welfare.
Michael G. Johnson, Sea Machines founder and CEO, said, “While our space has seen a number of government-innovation backed prototype initiatives for autonomous tugs in Europe, Japan and Singapore, it’s notable that Foss is launching the first commercially funded project in U.S. waters.
“Our technology has been in use aboard commercial vessels around the world for nearly three years and is backed up by thousands of hours of testing and validation. This is yet another real-world example of how Sea Machines autonomy is reshaping the way work is being done by vessel crews on the water.”
Sea Machines noted the Rachael Allen project will mark its first installation of an autonomy system on a vessel over 5,000 horsepower. Designed by Jensen Maritime Consultants, the vessel will be able to escort the largest tankers and containerships calling the U.S. West Coast ports that it will serve. The tug is outfitted with two MTU Tier 4 engines, producing 6,866 horsepower and coupled to Kongsberg US255 azimuth thrusters. It is outfitted with Mackay Marine Electronics, and towing equipment consists of a Markey DEPGF-52R winch with 750 feet of 10-inch synthetic line on the bow and a Markey DEPC-32 stern winch with 250 feet of 6.5-inch circumference line on the stern.
The 100- by 40-foot tug is built to U.S. Coast Guard Subchapter “M” regulatory standards, with ABS loadline certification and UWILD notation.
This collaboration is not the first for Foss and Sea Machines. In 2020, the two companies teamed up in support of the multi-year project for the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD)’s Defense Innovation Unit (DIU). During an October DIU demonstration in Tacoma, Wash., Sea Machines and Foss outfitted a remotely commanded deck barge to land helicopters and host a scaled fueling station for aircraft, surface vessels and shore replenishment. Using the SM300, shoreside operators had remote situational awareness and were able to demonstrate the capabilities of remote command and control of the vessel, its operating systems and flight deck in a live marine environment.