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IT'S THINKING: New High Tech drives a Covey Island vessel, no humans needed

Updated: Jul 14, 2023

On a foggy maritime day a crowd stands against a metal rail looking out on the Halifax Harbour as a RIB, also known as a rigid inflatable boat, carves a wide circle through the water. A lone person sits in the bow of the boat as it turns this way and that. He does not touch the steering wheel or the throttle. The boat is being piloted by someone in the crowd holding a tablet. It is Demo Day at the Centre for Ocean Ventures and Entrepreneurship, or COVE.

A demonstration of autonomous/remote controlled piloting put on by Marine Thinking in Halifax Harbour

The boat's harbour jaunt is a demonstration of autonomous vehicle technology designed and installed by a local company, Marine Thinking. On board there is LiDAR, thermal camera, sonar, a gimbal camera, various communications networks, and the possibility of adding just about any type of sensor a customer could ask for.

Gimbal camera atop the boat

Besides the remote control, a vessel can be piloted and monitored from a mobile station or an office, both of which Marine Thinking displayed on Demo Day. "It gives you an idea of the sensor data you can receive sitting in an office...if the vessel is patrolling for security purposes you could have that information right in your control centre," says Yuan Yao, Product Director for Marine Thinking.

Marine Thinking's control centre. The image on the screen is a direct feed from the camera on the water. You can see people standing dockside looking on

The company can outfit a boat with technology in less than three months. "The length and durations for actually producing the hull itself is something that is more on the shipbuilder's shoulders, but Covey Island has been a good partner for us," Yao continues, "from a capacity perspective, and also the professionalism. Good quality product."

The rib with Electrical Engineer Ben Hatfield before the demonstration

Marine Thinking sought out a company who could build a good RIB, modify it to accommodate large batteries to power the tech and the electric motor, and do it all very fast. "Covey Island has been a really good partner with us," says Yao, "we had very tight deadlines, and they helped us meet those deadlines." They built one boat together that went to the NRC in Newfoundland. The Demo Day build is the second.

Image from the thermal camera on board, on screen inside the mobile control centre. You can see people standing up on the dock, their warm bodies showing up brighter against the cold sky

"This one is fully electric," says Al Hutchinson, President of Covey Island Boatworks, "we have a 20 megawatt lithium-ion battery system in it with built-in battery management systems into each battery. They're the highest energy density lithium-ion battery available."

Covey Island Boatworks has a division offering electric and hybrid propulsion systems to customers. Covey Island is a supplier of Torquedo motors, and one of them is on the Marine Thinking build.

The RIB is propelled by an electric motor made by Torquedo

Covey Island faced a challenge: modify the RIB so it could carry four large batteries and their management systems instead of fuel tanks, plus another battery for the technology on board, and accommodate extra wiring and positioning of the instruments, all without altering the boat's performance at sea.

Covey Island's built with Marine Thinking's tech installed

The batteries are housed inside custom-built cabinetry in the hull of the boat. "There's two under the bow locker," explains Hutchinson, "and then we have two of them under the console." They can be plugged into any shore power and charge.

The boat has hydraulic steering too. "We had to fabricate some pieces," Hutchinson says, to allow different cameras and sensors to be mounted securely.

Centre console on the boat

Then there were the extra cables that come with extra tech. "On these batteries you also have a data cable...It allows you to see the charge of the battery and it also allows them to optimize the charging distribution."

Hutchinson says it took some work to organize everything and ensure the boat would perform as needed with all its systems. "It was a lot of integration," he says.

The man on board is there to show a pilot isn't needed. In reality the boat can navigate by itself, useful in hazardous situations

At COVE's Demo Day, after several minutes of remote operation, the Covey Island-built hull drives itself back to the dock with Marine Thinking's technology and software. Another example of Nova Scotia boat building taking a green step forward in Canada's blue economy.

To learn more about Covey Island Boatworks visit their website. To learn more about Marine Thinking click here. To explore the COVE community of companies and opportunities click here.


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