Monthly Archives: January 2015

Government-recognized Robot… and a New Name

After some study, a tough decision, filling out of forms, and payment of an application fee, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has approved a Ship Radio Station License, Recreational or Voluntarily-Equipped (SA) for Poolbot.  Poolbot now has an identifiably-American MMSI (see below) and a callsign: WDH7858.

This was tricky.  Poolbot is intended to eventually operate internationally, and US treaties apparently require a special radio license for such craft.  However, a lot of the laws and regulations are for “vessels”, which carry passengers or cargo, and are usually of a certain length or gross tonnage far larger than Poolbot will ever get.

A letter was filed with the FCC stating that Poolbot is a “drone”, explaining that passengers and cargo are impossible, and specifying that no search-and-rescue craft would ever be required if Poolbot were to get into trouble.

No questions asked, they took the money and issued the license.  Poolbot is now government classified as a “Pleasure Ship”, specifically a “Research or Survey Ship”

What remains unknown is whether Poolbot is operating legally if the Restricted Radiotelephone Operator (required for the radio license) is physically miles away from the craft.  The law really hasn’t caught up to the drone age yet.

Why do any of this?  To get an MMSI number for an AIS unit – in essence, a unique ID that would allow live tracking of Poolbot via the web (see marinetraffic.com or vesseltracker.com) or using appropriate equipment on other ships and Vessel Traffic Services.  This lets Poolbot be “seen” in waterways and prevents it from becoming a hazard to navigation.

One last point: the FCC form requires the craft in question to have either a registration number from the US Coast Guard or the state of California… or a name.  US Coast Guard and California state regulations still only apply to cargo- and passenger-carrying vessels “used or capable of being used as a means of transportation on water” or engaged in fishing or towing operations.  So Poolbot now has a new name:

Nematon I

An explanation of the name will be the subject for the next post.  Thanks for your patience.