Ocean Too Rough? Send Out This Autonomous Boat

The Datamaran has a self-righting “active” hull and is mostly made from styrofoam.

The “Datamaran” got its name from a typo. Still, the sailing drone developed by Massachusetts-based startup Autonomous Marine Systems was named fortuitously.


“Datamaran” captures what the vessel does in gathering ocean intelligence, from weather conditions and pollution to the effects of climate change.

The catamaran has a rigid wing-sail with a “passive mechanical system” that allows the boat to self-steer. It’s also self-righting through an active hull–see the video below. Without a heavy fixed hull, it weighs 150 pounds and can be lifted (or actually just thrown) into the water by two people.

Aside from whatever sophisticated sensing equipment you might want to put onboard, the boat isn’t fancy. It’s mostly styrofoam. “We didn’t set out to make the best boat,” says AMS cofounder Eamon Carrig. “We set out to make the least boat for the job.”

AMS is based at Greentown Labs, a hardware-focused business accelerator and workshop space in Somerville, outside Boston. It plans to offer services like data collection and analysis. The drones can go out for six months at a time and are good for assessing the dynamics of a particular area (the Datamaran can “station-keep” within a 50-meter radius). Unlike floating buoys, they’re not pushed by the currents. And unlike fixed buoys, they don’t need to be towed into place at vast expense. Carrig says it can cost $100,000 a day to put out a bouy delivery ship. AMS can do the same job for an order-of-magnitude less, he says, and with no danger to sailors or use of diesel fuel. The boat is powered from solar panels and the wind.

There is a big need for deep ocean data. Satellites provide a limited view of the water. The drone can take direct measurements of salinity, temperature, acidification, and track weather conditions–for instance if there’s a hurricane or tsunami building in the far-Pacific. The Datamaran sounds like a useful addition to the fleet.

See our other boat-drone coverage here.


About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.