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Sea Machines gets $15 million to boost self-steering ships

The Boston company's technology allows boats to run autonomously

Sea Machines'  remotely controlled, unmanned vessel took a test run in Boston Harbor.
Sea Machines' remotely controlled, unmanned vessel took a test run in Boston Harbor.Barry Chin/GLOBE STAFF

Boston-based Sea Machines Robotics, which builds autonomous control systems for ships and boats, has closed on $15 million in new venture financing, including a significant investment from Navy shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries. Other investors in the deal include Toyota AI Ventures and Accomplice.

Founded in 2015, Sea Machines makes software and sensor packages that enable seagoing craft to operate with minimal assistance from humans. The company’s products allow ships to cruise in a predetermined pattern, while automatically avoiding nautical hazards such as nearby ships. Sea Machines makes automated systems for tugboats, ferries, oil spill skimmers, and naval patrol boats.

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“We have systems working off the waters of four continents right now,” said chief executive Michael Johnson.

In addition, Sea Machines is working with the global shipping giant Maersk to test a system for controlling large seagoing passenger and cargo ships.

Huntington Ingalls is the leading builder of ships for the Navy. Earlier this year, it acquired Hydroid Inc., of Pocasset, a maker of autonomous underwater robots used for mine-sweeping, underwater search and rescue, and oceanic research. Johnson said the company’s investment in Sea Machines underscores the Navy’s interest in seagoing robots.

“It’s clear to us that autonomy is going to be powering naval fleets in the coming decades,” he said.

Sea Machines will use the cash to strengthen its engineering capabilities as it develops next-generation perception systems designed to identify distant objects at sea. One goal, Johnson said, is to train a ship’s cameras to spot an object about 25 feet long while it’s still about 2.5 miles away.


Hiawatha Bray can be reached at hiawatha.bray@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeTechLab.