Mythos AI has big ambitions to bring the benefits of autonomous technologies to the maritime industry. Founded in 2020, the company kicked-off with what CEO Geoff Douglass describes as “disruptive hydrography”, helping ports increase efficiency and giving them a competitive advantage in the market. Looking towards the future, Geoff sees even greater potential for autonomous operations. This includes things like solving the problems of workforce shortages and speeding up the decarbonisation of the shipping operations. This interview takes a closer look…
Autonomous operations in the maritime industry is a huge market. Where would you say Mythos AI’s niche is?
For self-driving vessels in the maritime industry, a lot of people are focusing on simple environments like offshore operations. No one is doing the hard stuff, which we see as developing the machine learning capacity that can navigate ‘port-to-port’ and in busy inland waterways. This is what the industry needs: this is where our niche is.
Once again, this is a huge subject. How do you approach this?
We have a two-sided approach. We have a product – an autonomous hydrographic survey vessel – which generates revenue. While our customers operate these vessels we are in the background training very advanced autonomy and self-driving in port environments with the data they collect. This strategy allows us to train autonomy quickly so that we can begin packaging it up into products for other vessel types that operate in busy port environments.
Tell us more about the business case of the hydrographic survey vessel.
We have automated hydrographic data collection processes and data pipeline into this vessel – which we call Archie – which provides near real-time digital twin information of the seabed of inland waterways, channels and vessel berths in an intuitive web application that shipping stakeholders can easily view and manipulate to gain situational awareness of their routes. Because we have automated this process, we can acquire and display clean bathymetric data as much as 30 times faster than existing methods. Through automation of the complete process, we’ve made collecting multibeam data and turning into a product so intuitive and repeatable that just about anyone can do it with a small amount of training. This is disruptive to the industry. It allows our customers to rapidly scale their survey operations or begin collecting it themselves to better inform their operations without needing to increase staffing.
Who are your clients for this?
Ports, terminal operators, marine construction companies and hydrographic offices are our main customers. They can use the data to become more competitive in the market; informing shipping companies about the exact depths of their port environment to optimise their operations. The fact that ports often don’t know how deep the water is at their berths is actually a big impediment and inefficiency in our global supply chain. Ships often travel light to reduce their draught which is very inefficient.
Looking at the second part of your approach, how are you developing autonomous systems for busy ports?
The biggest hurdle in the maritime domain right now is getting a good data set of port environments. If you are going to navigate safely around something in a port, then you have to know very confidently what it is and what it is not. Archie’s perception systems consisting of radar, cameras, AIS, and ENC charts are crucial for this. With the data, we write algorithms – every single line of code ourselves – on how to navigate safely in various situations. For example, you have to navigate differently around a ship that is one mile away then you would around a jet-ski that is a hundred metres away. Ports are just the beginning: once we have developed the technology, the same ‘brain’ can be extended across markets; ferries and cruise ships, for instance.
Looking further ahead, can you highlight some of the advantages you see autonomous shipping providing the maritime industry?
Autonomy is going to play a big role in addressing the problems of workforce shortages, which is currently one of the largest bottlenecks that we have in global commerce. And topics such as route automation and planning automation are really going to help the shipping industry decarbonise. In fact, some studies have shown that a 20 to 40 per cent decrease in emissions can be achieved by making the duty cycle of ships more efficient. So while we are a ship autonomy company, I view us first and foremost as an environmental company.
Is there anything to be learned from self-driving cars?
Sure, and this is why our team is unprecedented in the maritime industry. The majority of our staff are software developers with experience of the self-driving car industry. This is 30 years ahead of the maritime domain, so we are really bringing that expertise into this space. This allows us to move very quickly with the technology.
What do you want to accomplish by being part of the PortXL program?
PortXL creates a place to talk about innovation for the maritime industry, which is generally a very conservative industry. Although we are an American company, the shipping industry is a global product – so PortXL enables us to reach out to the European market. Hopefully we can leverage the PortXL program to take a commercial path forward with our partners.