If tugs and harbour boats were to prove the leading demonstration vessels of choice for remote-control and autonomous testing in 2017, this year has seen a notable increase in the utilisation of ferries in the race to realise safe and efficient unmanned vessel operations.
Rolls-Royce, for instance, recently announced that it has clocked “close to 400 hours of sea trials” of its Ship Intelligence technology, courtesy of Falco, a double-ended car ferry donated by Finnish state-owned operator Finferries (pictured, right). In May 2018, the two companies entered into a collaborative research project, titled Safer Vessel with Autonomous Navigation (SVAN). The SVAN project is intended to build on the groundwork laid by the earlier Advanced Autonomous Waterborne Applications (AAWA) research initiative, a project in which Rolls-Royce was heavily involved, alongside Tampere University, Deltamarin and others.
Earlier this month, the 53.8m x 12.3m, 54-car-capacity Falco undertook her usual journey between Parainen and Nauvo – a trip of approximately 15 minutes – only, this time, under fully autonomous control, courtesy of a suite of advanced sensors. Rolls-Royce explains: “The vessel detected objects utilising sensor fusion and artificial intelligence and conducted collision avoidance. It also demonstrated automatic berthing with a recently developed autonomous navigation system. All this was achieved without any human intervention from the crew.”
The data gathered by the sensors was relayed to Finferries’ remote operating centre, situated in the city of Turku, some 50km from Falco. A shore-based captain was ready to step in and take remote control of the vessel in the event of a problem. The remote-control aspects of the technology were then demonstrated on the vessel’s return journey from Nauvo to Parainen. This particular trial also enabled Rolls-Royce to analyse the performance of its Autodocking system, which has been designed to permit the vessel to automatically adjust course and speed when approaching the quay, for a safe docking experience.
Just a week before, Wärtsilä had put its automated dock-to-dock solution to the test aboard the 85m, 300-pax, Norled-operated ferry Folgefonn. In an endeavour partly funded by Innovation Norway, this three-day trial, supervised by the Norwegian Maritime Authority, saw Folgefonn visit all three ports on her regular route without any human intervention – bar the operator selecting the next destination berth and clicking on the system’s ‘Sail’ function, which grants the system control of the vessel.
Wärtsilä reports: “The ferry was [then] able to leave the dock, manoeuvre out of the harbour, sail to the next port of call, manoeuvre through the harbour entrance and dock alongside the terminal” – all in hands-off mode. The system’s autonomous controller is based on Wärtsilä’s existing DP system and features control over the vessel’s speed, heading and position on the pre-defined track. Wärtsilä adds: “GNSS is used as the primary sensor, while a Wärtsilä Guidance Marine CyScan AS is being tested as a secondary position sensor for approach to the berth.”
ABB has also joined in on the action, having recently contributed to a remote-control vessel trial hosted in the Port of Helsinki, using the 33.8m x 8m, 2004-built, ice-breaking ferry Suomenlinna II. The vessel, which was equipped with ABB’s Ability Marine Pilot Vision situational awareness system last year, was steered remotely and wirelessly from a shore-based control centre, covering a predesignated, traffic-free section of the Finnish capital’s harbour waters.
For now, Suomenlinna II will continue to operate via conventional onboard controls, with the remote mode being deployed solely for the trial. Further trials are planned, though ABB is keen to not rush the process – nor to ditch the human element altogether. Speaking after conclusion of the trial, Juha Koskela, managing director of ABB’s marine and ports unit, said: “Autonomous does not mean unmanned…as vessels become more connected than ever before, ABB is able to equip seafarers with existing solutions that augment their skillsets. In this way, we are enhancing the overall safety of marine operations.”