Sci-Tech

Volvo Penta presents docking assist technology

Now that the cars are able to create a niche for themselves, it is now the boats’ turn to have their “parking” solution. Penta, the maritime subsidiary of Volvo, presented its docking assistance solution Assisted Docking this Monday, January 11th, at CES 2021. This is one of the largest exhibitions in the world dedicated to the task of technological innovation, the 2021 edition of which will exceptionally take place exclusively online.

How exactly does it work?

The captain of the boat has a joystick that shows his virtual assistant the direction he wants to go. The Penta system then takes care of the difficult tasks of evaluating variable elements such as wind or tides to keep the boat on course. It is equipped with a combination of GPS, on-board sensors and dynamic positioning. Assisted docking then enables the following functions: move in a straight line without manual compensation, stay stationary, perform a slow maneuver, turn around a fixed point, reposition the boat slightly, realign it or even push sideways to dock on the side.

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Assisted docking, a gadget?

Not really ! Parking your boat in a marina is a difficult maneuver, especially for freshwater sailors, especially if the port is crowded or very narrow. It can also be used on an old sea bass if the natural elements are not forgiving. The captain then has to pay attention to many details to prevent his boat from crashing or hitting someone else’s boat. Not easy with a machine several tens of feet long! Especially since the damage (and repair costs) is much greater than if a car is scratched during a poorly negotiated time window.

Docking support is just the beginning of automating navigation, however. This technology, which in particular makes it possible to move the boat in a straight line while automatically balancing out natural elements, could make navigation safer. Some even see it as a further step towards the full automation of ships, just like self-driving cars on land routes. Note that the Swedish manufacturer founded Volvo Autonomous Solutions in 2019 to specialize in autonomous transport. However, the company is not the only one involved in autonomous boats: MIT’s Computer and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) is currently testing its solution (Roboat II) in the canals of Amsterdam.

The marketing of assisted docking is planned for spring 2021

Volvo Penta kept this new technology in its drawer for a while. Two years ago, the company, which specializes in the manufacture of engines and other systems for boats, presented its system for the first time at the Swedish stage of the Volvo Ocean Race in Gothenburg. By that time, the prototype boat had managed to slide smoothly or cause stress between two 72.6-foot racing yachts. The solution is now complete and ready to be marketed. It will even be available in spring 2021 for installation on new boats or as an update for those who are already equipped with Volvo Penta’s IPS system.

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