Anyone can drive a boat. Out on the open sea, you throttle up and keep the bow pointed along a given heading. Hopefully, you'll arrive at your destination with enough time left for a dock-side drink and congenial chitchat with your fellow water lovers.
The hard part of the journey, however, occurs when you have to dock that thing. This is where real captains stand out from "boat drivers." If there's a strong current or a bit of wind, it can become a difficult task.
Volvo has found a way to make docking easier, though, because it's invented technology that allows a boat to dock itself.
This tech isn't being applied to a small vessel, either. Volvo has gone big here. In the accompanying video, the self-docking tech is fitted to a 68-foot motor yacht, which is a rather sizable ship. To prove its tech works, Volvo set up a demonstration that involved docking the 68-footer between a pair of 65-foot racing yachts. The demonstration took place in front of a crowd while a wind blew directly perpendicular to the approach path of the self-docking boat.
As you can see in the video, the captain pressed the appropriate buttons to order his vessel to dock. It listened and did just that, flowing rearward into its space right between the two tied-up race yachts. This was accomplished by using Volvo's integrated propulsion system (IPS). It's a computer-controlled series of propellers and engines that work together to make a captain's job that much easier. Usually when it's time to dock, the captain will grab a joystick that controls the IPS and he or she can make finely tuned adjustments to guide the ship into place.
On this system, however, the captain tells the boat where it wants to park and the ship takes over from there. adjusting the IPS on its own. Sensors and computers read a constant stream of information and can react within milliseconds. The boat monitors wind and water conditions to allow it to course correct through micro adjustments to the power inputs and steering angles. If the captain needs to halt the process, the system can hold the boat in place even though the wind and sea around it conspire against the IPS.
This isn't a fully autonomous system, so the captain still needs to be in their seat. Regardless, it's a seriously impressive achievement. While it's not yet commercially available, a Volvo representative says it should find its way into production vessels by 2020.