Automated Ships Ltd and Kongsberg Maritime have signed a memorandum of understanding to build an unmanned, fully automated vessel for offshore operations, with a scheduled delivery date of 2018.Brett A. Phaneuf, managing director of UK-based Automated Ships Ltd, tells Ship & Boat International that Norwegian builder Fjellstrand has been selected to construct the vessel, which will be tasked with servicing the offshore energy, fish-farming and scientific and hydrographic sectors, as well as handling tasks such as ROV and AUV launch and recovery.
The vessel, which will be christened Hrönn, could also potentially act as a standby vessel, providing firefighting support to offshore platforms, for instance.
Phaneuf comments: “Our vessel will be ready for extensive sea trials beginning before the end of Q1 2018, and will be put into service by the end of Q2 2018. It is an aggressive schedule but we have an exceptional team on the project!”
Although the final design will be approved in mid-January 2017, Phaneuf says that the vessel will most likely feature a length of 35m and a breadth of 10m, with a draught of approximately 3m. Speed will be in the region of 14knots max, though the unmanned craft will cruise at 8knots, he adds.
Regarding range, Phaneuf comments: “At 5-8knots or in dynamic positioning [DP] mode, we are looking at measuring deployment in weeks, not days. We can also add modular fuel tankage on deck to increase range to extreme levels.”
Initially, Hrönn will be controlled remotely from shore, with a ‘man-in-the-loop’ overseeing and operating the vessel in real time, before making the transition to purely autonomous status. Sea trials will be conducted on the stretch of Trondheimsfjord, Norway, that has been designated by the Norwegian Coastal Authority (NCA) as a test bed for unmanned vessels (see Ship & Boat International November/December 2016, page 16). This primary, remote-controlled phase “will allow us to characterise the vessel’s performance initially, and develop the proper coefficients for the automation to take over various shipboard operations.”
Kongsberg, meanwhile, will provide Hrönn’s control systems. The manufacturer states: “All vessel control systems, including K-Pos DP, K-Chief automation and K-Bridge ECDIS will be replicated at an onshore control centre, allowing full remote operations of Hrönn.”
Phaneuf comments: “As we build up confidence in the ship, as a result of the trials, we will slowly integrate new ‘autonomy’ that will reduce the workload on the pilot or observer over a longer period of time than in the sea trials period.” Automated Ships will work closely with the Norwegian Maritime Authority and class society DNV GL to “steadily upgrade Hrönn’s capability, such that it approaches full autonomy,” he says. Nonetheless, he adds: “We will always be monitoring the ship to some degree when it is operating at sea.”