30 new autonomous system startups out of nowhere

The Dock's search for autonomous vessel system startups has begun to draw in companies from many different industries and disciplines

A search for start-ups developing solutions that can be used on autonomous ships, drones and other waterborne craft has unearthed more than 30 companies above the ones already known about. The Dock Innovation Hub in Israel has teamed up with two parts of Germany based technology firm thyssenkrupp,  with a focus on advanced technologies for military and commercial use. The two organisations – Atlas Elektronik and thyssenkrupp Marine Systems are looking for start-ups that can address what they see as core technology needs in the development of unmanned autonomous sysems that operate under and on the water.

Thyssenkrupp is best known today for its development and design for warship, submarine and defence systems, but has divisions focused on a number of other sectors both ashore and afloat, government and commercial. The two German companies also have communications and data link systems as well as a number of unmanned naval systems.

Talking to Fathom World for the latest Aronnax Podcast, Dock co-founder and COO Nir Gartzman said that as soon as they launched the call to find companies they had applications flooding in. Some, he said, were from start-ups and scaleups working in the maritime and military sectors they already knew about, but others have come in having made a mark in other sectors, notably automotive technology where there has been a lot of investment in autonomous vehicle systems. “There are a few tens of startups in our system, and we have 30 we did not know about before, some from Israel, but globally too”, he said.

Atlas Elektronik already delivers unmanned minesweeping technologies, such as to the UK's Royal Navy in 2018

Such developments are perhaps not unexpected according to Nick Chubb, owner and CEO of Thetius, a UK-based consultancy that monitors startup technologies. “The basic technology behind autonomy can be applied whether it is on a factory floor, in a vessel crossing an ocean, or in a car or a plane”, he said. “There are quite a lot of generic technology platforms that can be used across different disciplines. Although we are not really seeing the technology in the large shipping space, we are seeing  a lot of movement in the ocean sensing space”.

And this is where Thyssenkrupp and a lot of start-ups are initially focusing. The costs of smaller drone systems are smaller, and the financial risks lower. Gartzman says companies like Thyssenkrupp are not looking for complete solutions to build autonomous systems, but for component parts that will answer some of the technology challenges such integration specialists face.

The Dock acts like a matchmaker, but also takes a stake in companies as an investor, so Gartzman is keen the companies that come onboard this project are the right ones. The current challenge sees Atlas Elektronik, Thyssenkrupp Marine Systems and The Dock look for solutions in four key areas. Startups with possible solutions addressing communication, AI and software, human machine interface and energy/power challenges are being sought, though only four will be selected In September to be part of a pilot project.

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