South African shipbuilder building autonomous boat

South African shipwright Legacy Marine is building an autonomous vessel for a client in Saudi Arabia as a proof-of-concept for search and rescue, City Press reports.

Dubbed the “Prowler”, the unmanned surface vehicle (USV) uses artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced robotics to navigate, eliminating concerns over human error.

The 9.5-metre aluminium vessel is currently being built in Gqeberha in partnership with Noble Concentric Solutions and could be ready in December.

Project leader and Noble Concentric Solutions founder Eddie Noble says it will be the first USV built, integrated, and tested in South Africa.

Noble Concentric Solutions was established in 2005. Its focus is business management and engineering in the naval and high-tech defence sectors.

Regarding USVs, the company said it builds bespoke vessels for patrolling, surveillance, protection, search and rescue, fire-fighting, and rig and infrastructure security, among other things.

Legacy Marine USV render.

It uses technologies like radar, visual perception systems, sonar, LIDAR, and automatic identification systems to offer features like fully autonomous collision avoidance, obstacle avoidance, and anti-grounding.

“Full mission planning, return to base, safety when lack of communications — these capabilities are all offered in our USV solutions,” Noble Concentric Solutions said.

“Constructed in aluminium or GRP, with various propulsion system configurations and multiple payloads, our USV solutions will perform the function you want them to — efficiently, accurately, and safely.”

According to Robosys, the Prowler’s autonomous control leverages its Voyager AI system, which allows for varying levels of autonomy for onboard navigation and visual and autonomous control of the vessel.

The company describes the Voyager AI system as a full-stack autonomy solution that enables fully autonomous USVs from three to 340 metres.

Volvo’s Penta D-6-400 engine.

The Prowler is powered by Volvo’s 5.5-litre in-line 6 Penta D-6-400 engine, providing 282kW of power to the propeller shaft.

“The 9.5m USV can be launched from ashore or from floating platforms such as logistic support ships, frigates and other mothercraft, to perform patrol, surveillance, interdiction, search and rescue functions, amongst others,” said Robosys.

“The USV is a versatile and multi-function platform that allows for the installation of most industry-standard sensors and effectors.”

Legacy Marine commercial manager Kevin Gray said Legacy Marine chose Robosys’ Voyager AI system as it offers proven level four maritime autonomy capabilities.

Legacy Marine, also located in Gqeberha, has built over 1,000 boats since its inception and exports its vessels globally.

It says more than 90% of its products are exported from South Africa, with its larger customer segments being workboats, waterborne tourism, and bespoke builds.

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South African shipbuilder building autonomous boat