Future Waves: Current Status of the Technology to Realize Self-Docking Boats

Future Waves: Current Status of the Technology to Realize Self-Docking Boats

One of the most daunting experiences among those who helm boats is docking. Imagine that you are maneuvering to dock, and a tide starts rocking you to one side, and the wind takes you to another. If that is not challenging enough, a crowd of onlookers is waiting for the shoe to drop and for your boat to demolish the dock. With these wave changes, there is a much higher risk of an incident than for you to dock successfully.

The best way to avoid repair costs to the dock and boat, not to mention embarrassment in that situation, is to pretend to receive a call back to the ocean and then motor away. Regardless of the reason for returning to the waters, it is better than losing your reputation and financial loss after an unsuccessful docking.

So, how far are the technologies that can automate the docking process? Let’s dive in and see the current status of self-docking technology for boats.

Raymarine’s DockSense Technology

Raymarine has a solution, DockSense. As a leading boat manufacturer in the industry, Raymarine is developing an automated docking system equipped with stereoscopic cameras to help navigate your docking process without causing damage to your boat. We tested out a prototype on an Outrage boat at the Miami Boat Show. One word describes the experience; breathtaking.

In 2022, self-driving technology in vehicles is a growing trend, with companies like Tesla, BMW, Audi, Ford, and Google testing their auto-piloting cars. Although some self-driving cars can even parallel park, executing the same maneuver on the water is a very tricky task. Imagine a boat trying to self-park on a sliding surface that moves in all directions; that is artistry in motion from all directions.

How the DockSense automated system works

The DockSense Alert system detects, displays, and alerts the Captain about the obstacles around the boat. The system uses FLIR cameras and onboard video analytics to accurately measure the distance to the pilings, dock, and other nearby vessels. Apart from reading real-time visual indicators, you can comfortably rely on the live camera view of the multifunctional displays and the audible feedback to park safely.

The challenge some people have with DockSense is trusting it. After a good number of self-guided docking maneuvers, it takes some mental battles to stand at the helm and avoid working the throttles or steering the boat. All you have to do is push a button to activate the system, step back and allow the autonomous system to take control. To avoid going insane during the testing process, you must regularly remind yourself that if the docking went wrong, you could blame the boat and its technology. Luckily, the process was smooth. The DockSense-fitted-boat withstood the waves and wind, and we could see what the boat cameras were recording through the display on the dashboard.

In self-driving cars, the advent of electric power steering made it possible for advanced steering technology to come up as a way to perfect the automation of car driving. On the other hand, boats with hydraulic steering cannot do automated docking. At the bare minimum, you would need a boat with two engines that can throttle and steer on its own to place the hull in position.

Availability of the DockSense Technology

The Raymarine DockSense system is available only on specific 2021 model-year boats. You can expect the commercial version to be easy-to-configure compared to the specially-fitted version we tested at the 2020 Miami Boat Show. The good news is that the system passes the proof of concept stage.

Volvo Penta’s Inboard Performance System (IPS)

Volvo Penta debuted its first boat with a joystick control in 2006. The renowned supplier of marine power solutions and industrial applications is now planning to become the leading supplier of autonomous piloting with automated docking technology. But you won’t be carried away with an announcement just yet. The time to have your boat automatically dock while sipping some wine with friends on the foredeck might be five or more years away.

How Volvo Pena IPS works

The Volvo Pena auto-docking system uses an electronic vessel control system (EVC) and sensors to steer the boat from its relative position. Once the system is engaged, the sensors should react in milliseconds, locking on course for safe parking, regardless of the changing water and wind conditions. One of the features of the Volvo system is the pause feature. If you decide not to park midway through the docking stage, you can press the pause button to stop the boat from moving.

Installation of the system is in two parts, installing the on-dock sensors and the IPS on the boat. So, as companies target market to their audience, the wealthy customers, you can expect to use a harbor fitted with the docking system. The self-docking system will also be accessible through the Easy Connect app. The benefit of the application is that you can book a dock space while still in the ocean.

Availability of the Volvo Pena IPS

The docking system is in the trial stage. The long-term vision is to expand the market to harbors and marinas.

Wrap up

Watch for the commercial availability of the Volvo and Raymarine systems. It is just a matter of time before other companies jump on board to produce other versions of self-docking systems. The rise of AI is ushering newer companies into developing systems for self-piloting. So, as the demand for AI boats takes an uptick, expect to see self-docking technology as a standard in the future. For now, we can only speculate on having these systems available in the market in the next decade.

Are you planning to redesign, install, or build a boat dock that matches your needs? Contact VW Docks and we will work with you to come up with a custom solution that exceeds your expectations. Call us today and let us discuss your needs.

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