The "Nellie Bly" is an automated tugboat from the Boston-based company Sea Machines, and it just finished its first trial run of 1000 miles — navigated purely on software. The 16-day nautical journey took it around the coast of Denmark, through the Kiel Canal in Germany, around the Danish islands in the Baltic Sea, and along the Jutland peninsula, before docking in Hamburg. From The Boston Globe:
Two mariners were on board the ship in case human intervention was needed. In addition, the Bly could be remotely controlled from Sea Machines' Boston headquarters. The ship stayed within 11 miles of the Danish coast and stayed in touch with the company through a Danish 4G wireless network.
However, Sea Machines chief executive Michael Johnson said the ship steered itself for almost the entire voyage, using radar, radio beacons, and cameras to automatically detect and avoid navigational hazards, including other ships.
At the Boston control center, the voyage was overseen by sailors belonging to the American Maritime Officers, a union representing officers working on US merchant ships. The partnership between Sea Machines and the AMO is aimed at ensuring that human sailors still will have roles to play even if seagoing craft become increasingly automated.