December 18, 2020

Buffalo Automation to Demo First Autonomous Water Taxi Concept in Knoxville, Tennessee

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Callie Blackburn

The App Enabled, AI-Driven Greycraft Will Be Demonstrated on The Tennessee River

Buffalo Automation, a US based developer of AI-powered autonomous water transport, predictive navigation, and maritime safety systems, today announced a full scale demo of the world’s first autonomous water taxi concept in Knoxville on the Tennessee River.

“From its inception, Buffalo Automation’s goals have been to improve safety and decarbonize the world’s maritime industry through the use of modern technology,” explains CEO and Co-Founder Thiru Vikram. “This demonstration was made possible because of like-minded local leaders who are open to exploring alternative transport models. Our demo run will solidify our commitment to providing the people of Tennessee a safe, clean energy means of transportation that protects their numerous blueways and natural resources. Running the demo of Greycraft on the Tennessee river is an exciting undertaking. We’re happy that Knoxville officials share our vision and look forward to our impending launch.”

The Greycraft water taxi concept is a fully contained, solar powered, autonomous vessel driven by world class AI. Established in 2015, Buffalo Automation has amassed the largest continually learning maritime AI database of its kind – taking advanced mobility and technology to a new level – on the water. The Buffalo Automation team continues to transform the fossil-fuel reliant maritime industry through advanced AI for autonomous transport and navigation, as well as solar-powered electrification of marine vessels. 

The official launch of the fully operational Greycraft Water Taxi is targeted for early 2021 and will initially be cost-free for residents pending proper transportation permits. 

Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon, a champion of green technology, is enthusiastic about the potential benefits of Buffalo Automation’s river navigation innovation. Tennessee boasts a beautiful, complex network of blueways, she says, and none are more important than the Tennessee River, whose headwaters are close to downtown Knoxville. 

“The Greycraft test run is exciting and historic,” Mayor Kincannon said. “We applaud companies exploring and investing in green technologies. As we move forward together, we need everyone’s contributions – government, businesses, transit systems and individuals – to reduce greenhouse emissions. Recreation and transportation on blueways are a significant part of life here in Tennessee. A safer, solar-powered, autonomous water taxi service is a great example of a big idea and a new business model with potential to become a part of the long-term environmental solution across the nation.”

More About Buffalo Automation

Buffalo Automation’s flagship product, Automate, is a predictive boat navigation system that guides large commercial ships. The system works day and night, utilizing AI, neural networks and thermal imaging technologies to identify even the smallest obstructions and safety issues – providing critical warnings and assistance in safely navigating around them. Automate has already been adopted by multiple commercial ships operating on the US Great Lakes and has garnered global customer interest. 

The AutoMate system is available in a consumer version called Pegasus, designed for smaller recreational boats. Pegasus provides a comprehensive navigation and safety system that safeguards both new and experienced boaters. While working seamlessly with today’s gas-powered engines, the forward-thinking Pegasus technology has been adapted to provide a fully autonomous boating experience in a new product line called Greycraft that combines electrification, renewable energy and modular design, exemplified by the pilot project in Knoxville. 

“The modularly designed Greycrafts can be collapsed and shipped as interchangeable standardized parts each measuring less than 65 inches, fitting into most pickups easily, and can be re-assembled manually at a dock within 2 hours, removing the need for a trailer,” notes Vikram, “Greycraft’s modular design also allows vessel size to be customized easily on the field by users. Since the lack of charging infrastructure is often a significant obstacle for the widespread adoption of electric vehicles, Greycraft is designed to be powered primarily by its solar panels with battery capacity reserved only for low-light operation or emergencies. They are also designed to remain operating on the water for several years after assembly and deployment with no maintenance, since they require neither fuel nor manpower.” 

Recently releasing a new product based on the company’s existing AI technologies, Buffalo Automation developed the Mayday app, which enables the public to experiment with AI firsthand.  Using the app, people can point their phones at their surroundings, and Mayday will identify objects in view. While the app is already programmed to detect watercraft — sounding an alert to boaters if they get too close to another boat or object in the water — Mayday can detect anything once trained to do so. In the case of the Knoxville water taxi, the app can also be used to hail a Greycraft, much like users call for a Lyft or Uber, paving the way for future autonomous ferry and water taxi companies to service the public.

Thank you to the partners who have helped make this project possible:

  • Buffalo Automation
  • City of Knoxville
  • Don Butler, Volunteer Landing Marina 
  • Commander Bobby Gay with the US Coast Guard, Marine Safety Detachment Nashville
  • Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency
  • TVA

About Buffalo Automation is an artificial intelligence (AI) startup that develops autonomous navigation technology for commercial ships, recreational boats, and water taxis with the goal to improve maritime safety.

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