Robert Allan Ltd (RAL) has completed tests with a simulated version of its RAmora 2400 unmanned firefighting tug, as part of its development of the TOWBoT concept (see Ship & Boat International March/April 2016, pages 31-33). Vince den Hertog, VP for engineering at RAL, says that tests were conducted at the MITAGS-PMI simulator facility in Seattle, Washington to assess how persons interact with remotely controlled vessels, and to determine whether a good sense of ‘tele-presence’ could be established.
Remotely operating a boat from a control room is done in a ‘2D’ manner; the operator does not experience 3D visual cues, sounds nor motions (such as vessel roll, for example), which can result in a sense of ‘disconnectedness’ from the vessel. RAL has been keen to understand how, or whether or not, this affects remote operations.
Recalling the tests, den Hertog explains: “Two experienced tug captains, who were intentionally not briefed on RAmora ahead of time, spent two days operating the virtual RAmora from a custom-built console with the same basic monitor layout and single joystick controller planned for RAmora’s actual console. The captains ran RAmora through a range of ship handling scenarios, including: connecting to the bow of a ship underway at 6-7knots, and assisting it through port transit and docking in the Port of Seattle; and operating RAmora as a bow tug while locking a ship through the Panama Canal locks.
“For maximum realism, all tug operations were directed by a pilot situated on the ship’s bridge simulator, who communicated with the tug captains by radio. We also explored the effects of some failure modes, such as loss of thruster, and concluded that, even with just one of the two VSP drives working, RAmora remains controllable enough to stay out of trouble.” Both tug captains described the combination of fore/aft VSP drives and single joystick control as being highly intuitive to operate.
March 2017 will see RAL return to the MITAGS-PMI simulator centre to conduct more tests focused on improving situational awareness, such as expanding the operator’s field of view and developing a more intuitive GUI scheme, den Hertog says. He also reveals that classification duties for the RAmora 2400 will be handled by Bureau Veritas (BV).
After this, he adds: “The next stage [will be the] ‘Proof of Concept’ phase…this will involve building a self-propelled, fully functional scale model we’ve designed, which is large enough to accommodate the actual controls and communications hardware.” The dimensions of the vessel remain the same – 25.8m in length, 12m in breadth and 4m in moulded depth – but, den Hertog shares, “the door is open to larger, more powerful variants”.