Autonomous boats: what are some use cases, and where would they be best deployed?

This is probably one of the most overlooked transport sectors whenever people talk about machine autonomy, and yet, marine craft are crucial for so many aspects of trade and supply. Fully 90% of global trade is accomplished with ships. And autonomous boats (and ships) represent an opportunity that could again transform how we view transportation.

What use cases can you think of that would change things for the better, even marginally?

Related trivia: Do you know the difference between a ship and a boat? There are multiple definitions. Traditionally during the age of sail, a three-(or more)masted vessel was a ship, and anything less than that was a boat. Another definition is a boat is a marine vessel that can be carried by a larger marine vessel, which is a ship, but that’s a fairly weak definition with a pile of exceptions. The modern definition appears to use a threshold around the 500 ton displacement mark, but again that doesn’t work well because a nuclear sub can be in excess of 5000 tons and submarines are referred to by their crews as “boats”. There’s also some talk about the presence or lack of a fo’c’sle (forecastle). In short: it’s a debate for the ages. :wink:

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There are lots of “short crossing” places around the world that doesn’t have bridges that rely on marine shipping to get goods across. The Great Lakes, or Gibraltar to Morocco, small inland seas anywhere, groups of islands. There has to be places that need this kind of on-call urgent delivery service to bypass the constraints around scheduled sailings. I used to live on a small island and I can tell you it sucks to have to wait until either the next time you cross to go to the “big city” to get urgently needed items or you wait for a courier to decide they have enough to deliver to make their trip worthwhile. I would love to see autonomous boats making the deliveries on demand.

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I love this. We have an island cluster near where I live that would be an ideal market for autonomous boat delivery services. Where was the island on which you lived, if I may ask? The San Juans?