Startup Mythos AI Surveys Seabed in Ports to Improve Shipping Efficiency

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BROOKLYN, New York — In a room full of the next generation of mobility entrepreneurs and financial backers of their wide-ranging projects, Geoff Douglass’ pitch was for using autonomous vessels to modernize port navigation and streamline the marine shipping supply chain.

What might best be described as “pilot day” at Newlab at the Brooklyn Navy Yard — a repurposed facility that buzzes with an open office setup and high-tech energy — featured startups with such names as ElectricFishPopwheels and SOS Carbon. Their founders presented a panoply of solutions that could help decarbonize transportation. An example: Popwheels’ vision is a series of stations where lithium-ion batteries can be recharged on the street so the e-bikes they power, particularly those used in urban settings by food delivery companies, don’t need to be recharged inside a home, which can start fires.

The reality is, most such projects will fail. But the other reality in startup world is that one or more of them may succeed beyond the founders’ wildest dreams.

Douglass is the founder and leader of MythosAI, an eight-person startup whose technology he likened to a Roomba autonomous vacuum cleaner, though it doesn’t actually scoop up anything.

“People in the marine industry had said to me for a few years that it was truly in the Stone Age,” said Douglass, a naval architect by training. “We want to develop autonomy for an industry that needs it.”

While MythosAI has done proof-of-concept runs in Texas (the picture accompanying this article was taken by a FreightWaves photographer in Galveston Bay), the primary money-generating activity at the company so far has been in Monroe, Michigan, a relatively small port on Lake Erie but the only one in the state that has container-processing capabilities.

Douglass told the audience that the Roomba-like technology dubbed “Archie” surveys the sea floor around ports, giving port operators far greater information on where silt and other blockages may have piled up after something as big as a storm or as small as a ship movement.

“Every single time we move a ship in or out from berth, we move the bottom,” Douglass said. “The thrusters kick up sedimentation in one spot, and then they move in to other spots. It happens faster than we can actually chart it. It created huge vulnerabilities in the supply chain. How do we know if it’s safe? And this ends up backing up shipping.”

“One of the largest inefficiencies is caused by the fact that we are unable to update navigation charts as quickly as the depths change at ports all around the globe.”

The result, Douglass said, can be putting “less stuff on ships.”

The ultimate goal is to keep open for shipping those areas of a port that might otherwise be closed to traffic temporarily for fear that sediment blockages may have built up — when data might otherwise reveal that the area is safe to transit.

In an email to FreightWaves after the event, Douglass said the pilot run with Monroe stretched over several weeks last October and November. He said the entire port could be mapped in a day, and the data from the survey is available within 12-24 hours on MythosAI’s platform.

It was that desire for more information on the seabed at the port and more efficient decision-making to open or close parts of the facility that led the port director at Monroe — also a ship pilot — to seek an eight-week test run. “They wanted us to survey every time a ship comes into port, and we did, and then he said, ‘I want you to survey every single time a ship leaves port,’” Douglass said.

The port director sought information he could use to “prove to shipowners that it’s safe to come here, and for the Army Corps of Engineers, I can tell them exactly where I need dredging, and for my engineering firm, so I can plan the future expansion of the port,” Douglass added.

Pointing to a map of the Monroe port, Douglass noted the area where ships berth. Out-of-date data from less-frequent surveys means that “we might know how deep it was in September 2023, but we don’t know how deep the berth is now.”

The technology would replace a process that Douglass said “takes highly skilled people many weeks and maybe months to turn something around that the industry can use. And in that time, the bottom changes. So we automated the whole process.”

Douglass said some of the information discovered by surveying the port at Monroe was that “deep areas were deeper, the shallower areas were much shallower, in some areas by as much as half a foot.” Restricting ship weight on the belief that the deeper parts of the port are not as deep as they actually are can cost a lot of money in forgone shipments, Douglass said; not understanding how shallow the shallow parts are could lead to a ship being grounded.

There are two Archie vessels running the technology now. But Douglass said the company has developed expertise that would allow it to “develop a technology stack that is scalable and transferable across vessel types and classes.”

The proofs of concept were run in Galveston and Port Arthur, Texas, as well as Port Plaquemines in Louisiana and Gulfport, Mississippi.

Autonomous technology: The long-term MythosAI foundation

The other aspect of the MythosAI technology that led it to a conference on mobility is that the ship surveying the port would leverage autonomous technology.

The pilots and the work in Monroe do have a human presence steering the ship; that part of the MythosAI offering — full autonomy — isn’t fully ready for prime time. But Douglass said the MythosAI ships are self-driving as they make their way around the port. In fact, he said he still views the long-term value proposition of MythosAI as being tied more to autonomy and less to surveying ports.

“We have developed very robust self-driving in these congested environments at both high and low speeds,” he said in an email. “We are currently shoring up partnerships to begin transitioning our autonomy into advanced driver assist and situational awareness products for ships and commercial vessels.”

There are other pending deals for MythosAI’s services, Douglass said, but he declined to identify the locations: “Our tech will allow these groups to build digital twins of their waterways, which they will share with their customers to gain a competitive advantage vs. other ports, the army corps to be proactive with maintenance requirements, and their engineering firms to plan expansion projects efficiently.”

Douglass said MythosAI has raised $5 million so far. Its appearance at the Newlab event was part of a push to raise an additional $3 million to $4 million.

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