SMASH! is the network for smart shipping. Once a month we introduce one of our partners, as to strengthen our community and our collaborating partners. Colleagues give us a look behind the scenes, tell us about interesting developments and about expectations regarding cooperation in the SMASH! community. In this interview we spoke with Geoffrey Ejzenberg and Noel Jans, founders of start-up Autonomous Knight.
The world of autonomously moving vessels and vehicles is developing rapidly. New solutions are constantly being devised to make current technology operate even smarter. But this technique also has its limitations. You can keep building and developing to eliminate the limitations, however, you can also return to the drawing board and come up with something completely different that no longer has those limitations. That’s what the guys at Autonomous Knight have done: they’ve developed a new type of sensor that overcomes the limitations of existing sensors on autonomous vessels.
Day and night vision in all conditions
“All autonomously moving systems currently work with LIDAR technology, which has one major shortcoming. If the weather’s good it works perfectly, but if the weather’s bad it can’t look around and identify objects well enough,” says Noel. And identification is crucial for autonomously sailing ships. “Identification goes beyond simply detecting an object. While identifying, the system knows what scenario should be applied and which action is required. If it is not possible to do that identification due to weather conditions, you cannot sail autonomously.”
The Autonomous Knight sensor therefore uses a multispectral camera. This camera sees more than the human eye, because it uses the entire light spectrum. As a result, it has visibility during day and night, and in all weather conditions. “Our innovation lies in the fact that we have found a way to also make the information available in real time,” explains Geoffrey. “Our hardware immediately merges the images from three spectra into one image with the same resolution. This means that your vehicle can act quickly, reliably and efficiently according to the situation.”
From mining to shipping
Geoffrey and Noel ran into each other several years ago in the mining industry in Brazil. Geoffrey has worked all over the world in the commodities and mining industries. During his first job, he stood on the quay of the port of Antwerp and saw how the cargo from large Chinese seagoing vessels was transferred to trains and inland vessels. At that time he already thought: there must be a smarter way to do this. By this time Noel was already working on that. He was involved in the automation of production lines in the chemical industry and later brought that technique to the large mining machines. When they met in Brazil, the link was quickly made.
Nowadays they’re making good progress with their start-up. They have patented their technology, are busy attracting investors and came out on top in the European Union’s Urban Mobility program at the end of last year. Geoffrey: “That really confirms our vision. This technology is still in its early days, but this confirms that we are on the right track.” The first sensor with hardware is expected to be ready for testing within 12 to 14 months. They can’t wait. Noel: “Put our system right next to an existing system on a ship and compare the actions. Then everyone will see that it really works.”
‘You cannot realize a fundamental change on your own’
Autonomous Knight is one of SMASH!’s newest network partners. Geoffrey and Noel see the power of this community. “We know very well where our knowledge lies and what we can do, but we also know what we cannot do. You cannot achieve a fundamental change in the industry alone. You need the knowledge and experience of others there,” says Geoffrey. Noel adds: “And it’s also important to belong to such a community to inform people in time that we have found a way without the existing restrictions. This means that other solutional structures can be built. After all: if you don’t know what technology is available, you won’t apply it.”
Their call to the SMASH! members: let’s talk. “We have to inform each other about the possibilities and challenges. This goes beyond the sales pitch of what everyone can do. Let’s really get to know each other and start the conversation. That way we can grow and develop together,” says Noel.