Somerville robot maker gets funds for solar sailboat

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A Somerville startup that is building a self-driving ocean robot has secured a first round of funding to get its products on the high seas.

Autonomous Marine Systems makes a solar- and wind-powered crafts that can spend days alone, gathering ocean data unsupervised.

The slight craft has a sail, which it relies on for a majority of its travel, and solar panels, which power the computer and communications systems on board. In a pinch, an electric thruster system allows controllers to navigate the craft as it gets close to a ship or to shore.

“We’re figuring out the transportation method to get those sensors to the middle of nowhere in the middle of the ocean,” co-founder and chief executive Eamon Carrig said. Long term data surveys in the ocean for climate and weather research can expend several thousand pounds of carbon dioxide, but “We can accomplish the same tasks with a craft that’s carbon neutral,” Carrig said.

“One of the applications we’re most excited about is providing bespoke hyperlocal weather reporting that can aid in ship routing,” Carrig said. “We’re looking to directly reduce the carbon footprint of other vessels as well by helping them navigate.”

Last week, the company announced it had raised $1.6 million in the seed round that was led by Massachusetts-based Clean Energy Venture Group.

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The company was officially incorporated in 2008, but remained an “expensive hobby” for both co-founders until about 2013, said Carrig, co-founder and chief executive officer of AMS. In 2014, the two participated in a startup accelerator program at Surge Ventures in Houston, which gave the company a profile boost.

After demos on the Charles River, AMS conducted its first paid pilot demonstrations last year off the coast of Maine. The company’s first customers were an energy company whose name they won’t disclose, and a University of Washington lab project funded by a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency grant. Carrig said he has plans for about ten other paid pilot tests for prospective customers this year.

AMS is not the only company building long-range long term ocean data trackers. A notable competitor is Wave Glider robot made by California-based Liquid Robotics, which harvests energy from waves and the sun.

Carrig says AMS seeks to distinguish itself by making the  “the least boat to get the job done” by build a basic vessel that’s cheaper, more lightweight, and can last longer.

Nidhi Subbaraman writes about science and research. Email her at [email protected]
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