VIDEO: Massachusetts builder tests unmanned catamaran

We’ve all heard of self-driving cars and now there are self-sailing boats.
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We’ve all heard of self-driving cars and now there are self-sailing boats.

A Boston-area startup called Autonomous Marine Systems has had its “Datamaran” in the Charles River since Monday for testing.

The company is working toward what it hopes will be a two-week-long sail outside Boston Harbor later this year, according to the Boston Globe.

To spot it, just look for the smallest catamaran on the water, with twin solar panels above each float — instead of an MIT undergrad learning how to sail.

Autonomous Marine Systems’ vision, explained co-founder Eamon Carrig, is to design a watercraft that can stay at sea for as long as six months, powered by only the wind and the sun.

The current prototype of the Datamaran can carry as much as 50 pounds of payload, which could be instruments for monitoring marine life or detecting oil spills; cameras; or sonar for seeing what’s happening beneath the waves.

The instruments are powered by the craft’s solar panels, which store electricity in two on-board batteries. That electricity also moves the rudder and a prop that supplies extra speed when needed. The Datamaran uses GPS signals to chart a pre-programmed course or to “station-keep,” remaining close to a particular spot.

What happens if the Datamaran collides with another boat, or vice versa?

“It’s 150 pounds of styrofoam,” Carrig told the Globe. “It could be plowed full speed by a pleasure craft and it’d be no big deal for anybody.”

Check out this video of the vessel self-righting.

It carries lights for nighttime operation. And although Datamaran’s operators aren’t constantly keeping an eye on it, if they spot an imminent collision they can take manual control and try to avert it.

This is the third vessel built after the company raised $650,000 in seed funding.

“This is the first one ready for ocean,” Carrig said, adding that the company is planning to build a new version early next year. (Winter testing happens in Key West, Fla.)

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