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We might soon get self-navigating ships, thanks to this AI startup

Three friends — Ugo Vollmer, Clement Renault and Antoine de Maleprade — who once used their skills to hack radio-controlled boats are now pioneers in AI-based shipping control.

Their company, Shone, recently landed a deal with shipping giant CMA CGM. They used Nvidia (NVDA) GPUs and applied to sonar, radar, GPS and AIS tracking technologies to create autonomous algorithms. Then they added cameras for better object detection. Applying autonomous technology, the result is simple — a brand new navigation tech using AI.

Startup Shone might pave the way for autonomous boats
Shone co-founders Antoine de Maleprade, Ugo Vollmer and Clement Renault. (CREDIT: Nvidia)

Renault, part of the Shone trio and former Starsky Robotics employee, said, “There is this industry that is moving 90 percent of the products in the world, and the tech is basically from the ‘80s — we were like, ‘What? How is that possible?’”

Shone, which was founded in 2017, has now expanded to eight employees to navigate seafaring AI. The trio, after hacking the radio-controlled boat and realizing they had a model for an autonomous boat, raised $0.2 million from friends and family to start the company.

Then they got into Y Combinator, where with $4 million in seed funding from investors.

With the Shone technology, cargo ships join a wave of industries, including locomotives, riding the autonomous vehicle revolution.

The trio made an autonomous boat prototype and showcased to CMA CGM delegation. “We took a video with a drone to show CMA CGM our prototype boat could offer autonomous navigation assistance for crews. They liked what we had,” said de Maleprade.

CMA CGM then invited them to develop the platform on several of their freighters—which span four football fields in length and transport 14,000 containers from Southern California to China.

This is a striking new development in the arena of self-driven vehicles, especially after Tesla (TSLA) and the latest launch of Google’s (GOOGL) Waymo commercial self-driven car service. This might soon pave the way for crewless boats and ships and could be a huge lift to the logistics industry and trade.


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