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This next-gen autopilot system for boats doesn’t need any input from the captain

Similar to airplanes, many recreational boats come with an autopilot option — but despite how advanced that might sound, most of these systems are rather basic, making corrections only after the boat has detected a changed in its environment. But not to worry — marine autopilot technology is about to get an intelligent overhaul thanks to the efforts of three University at Buffalo undergraduate engineering students, who have formed the Buffalo Automation Group. With a few patent applications and some early stage funding under its belt, the startup company is making progress on a driverless autopilot solution for the next generation of consumer boats.

Unlike the current reactive autopilot option, the system that’s currently being developed by the Buffalo Automation Group is predictive, combining real-time data with nautical charts and other static data to pilot the boat on the fly. It relies on a variety of sensors, cameras and wireless communication devices to monitor current weather conditions, upcoming obstacles in the water and any other real-time conditions. This information is then used along with static nautical data to steer the boat along the most efficient and safe course of travel.

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The driverless solution allows the captain to choose a destination using a connected smartphone or laptop. It then pilots the boat from port to port, and is accurate enough to dock the boat when it reaches its destination. This trip can be accomplished with no intervention from the captain, who has the option to remain hands-off for the entire trip or take control of the boat at any time.

For the time being, Buffalo Automation is targeting small yachts and inboard motor boats up to 40 feet long, and has successfully tested the technology on a 16-foot catamaran. The team hopes to refine the technology as they finish off their undergraduate degrees in the upcoming years. They also plan to meet with potential investors, boat manufacturers and marine electronics retailers about their developing technology.