A former Navy SEAL captain who once led a $67 billion U.S. Special Operations Command program is now growing a tech-focused maritime navigation startup from St. Petersburg’s waterfront.
Founded in Pensacola, Tocaro Blue moved into a secondary headquarters at the Innovation District’s Maritime and Defense Technology Hub in November. The expansion follows the recent launch of its patented Proteus platform – a 3D display and monitoring system that predicts nearby vessel movements.
Tristan Rizzi, Tocaro Blue’s president, completed a 26-year Navy Special Warfare career at nearby MacDill Air Force Base. St. Petersburg’s “stunning” scenery and business opportunities led him across the bay.
“This area between Clearwater and Sarasota is a maritime hub,” Rizzi said. “You look at all the engine manufacturers here, the defense applications – this is a boating mecca. The last side is the synergy with other innovators in the local market space.”
Rizzi, a U.S. Naval Academy and War College graduate, commanded SEAL boat teams for two decades. He then oversaw the development of a unique fleet that incorporates their “special capabilities.”
Tom Patterson, a serial entrepreneur, adventurer and sailor, founded Tocaro Blue in 2019. He now lives in Tampa, while most of Tocaro Blue’s engineers remain in Pensacola.
Rizzi “was all over it” when Patterson asked him to help lead the company. He said the two initially built a remote monitoring platform that allowed users to check various onboard systems and weather conditions when away from their vessel.
That evolved into creating an artificial intelligence (AI) that maximizes navigational system capabilities. Rizzi explained that the Proteus platform refines over 80 radar data points above and below the surface and displays simplified 3D models of a boat’s surroundings.
“And then your eyes are back out on the water, where they should be,” he added. “When you look at many of the dashboards on boats, they’re similar to aircraft in complexity.
“Water is more crowded than ever, and a lot of boaters out there don’t understand the rules of the road.”
Rizzi said the cellular, wi-fi and GPS-enabled unit’s AI discerns if an upcoming target is a boat, bridge or buoy in any weather conditions. While typical radar loses a target as it rotates, he said Proteus maintains continuous contact and “auto-plots” future movements.
The system compiles real-time National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and U.S. Coast Guard information and can predict tidal variances. Rizzi said its AI also learns what areas are inaccessible at specific times.
Proteus alerts boaters of an approaching vessel’s speed and port or starboard trajectory. Rizzi said the platform’s “blind target acquisition” capabilities allow it to “see” through bridges and other obstacles.
While Proteus has commercial and defense applications, Rizzi said the company’s initial focus is recreational boaters. He noted that users could show insurance companies the system’s saved data and “how safely they’re operating the vessel.”
Rizzi expects a public launch early next year with a $4,000 to $5,000 price point. He said a boat without radar could still use Proteus to see Coast Guard channel data and other typically unavailable information.
“It’s putting them (boaters) exactly where they need to be, and it’s reimagining the bottom,” Rizzi said. “It’s not about going after the ultra-wealthy and their $500,000-plus boats. This can help everybody.”
He explained that Proteus provides “level one autonomy” with its machine-learning software and reimagined user interface. He believes Tocaro Blue will eventually incorporate technology that “essentially” allows boats to run on autopilot.
“Open water, port-to-port autonomy, which is a pretty significant departure from what anyone else is doing,” Rizzi added. “The system sees the boats, where they’re moving, and reacts to these contacts and returns you back to your original route.”