Smooth sailing

Volvo has made a boat that docks itself

The autonomous boat docking system can be added to some existing boats, and will come to new boats from Volvo soon.

Volva Penta's Integrated Assisted Docking enables boats to dock autonomously.
Volva Penta

Penta, the maritime subsidiary of Swedish company Volvo, has unveiled an autonomous boat system that makes docking its boats much easier. The vessel pilot simply points the joystick in the direction of the dock, and the integrated Assisted Docking (AD) system does the rest using GPS and onboard sensors to make adjustments according to the wind and tide.

The system could be useful for amateurs who aren't skilled in steering a boat through rough waters make sure they don't run into anything. It's also, you know, expensive if you run into the dock... or worse, the boat in the next bay.

Back in 2018, Penta entered a prototype self-docking yacht into the Volvo Ocean Race. It was able to smoothly glide between two other racing yachts without any trouble.

Autonomy — Fully autonomous seafaring vessels could reduce the cost of ocean transport, which remains the most common way that goods move around the world. Though autonomous boats would have to deal with less traffic than self-driving cars, they have a more challenging environment, because water is moving around at the same time as the boat itself. Parking a Tesla in Autopilot is just going to be easier because the ground below you isn't changing every millisecond. In that sense, it's quite impressive what Penta has been able to pull off.

Volvo isn't the only player in the self-driving boat space. Researchers at MIT CSAIL recently unveiled their own autonomous vessel called the Roboat II. Initially capable of carrying two people at once, the boat was developed in collaboration with the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions. Someday such a vessel could be used to transport people through the city's famous canals, collect trash, or deliver goods.

The news out of Penta is that interested boaters will be able to buy its self-docking technology starting this spring. You'll need a Volvo Penta yacht though; if you already have one the company can upgrade your vessel, or you can just buy a completely new boat with it pre-installed.