A £900,000 (US$1.2M) joint industry project is set to explore technical, regulatory and other issues around using autonomous surface vessels, integrated with manned shipping operations, to support offshore windfarm operations and maintenance.
The ultimate goal of the 18-month Windfarm Autonomous Ship Project (WASP) is to develop a timeline for the phased introduction of autonomous vessels.
Previous research has found that vessels can account for as much as 60% of an offshore windfarm’s operating costs, which make up almost a quarter of the total lifecycle costs. These costs could be significantly reduced through the introduction of robotics and artificial intelligence.
Increasing use of autonomous vessels will also lead to the creation of highly skilled, cross-sector jobs in areas such as the integration and planning of autonomous vessels, boosting the UK’s maritime and digital supply chains.
The project, which is part funded by Innovate UK and led by ASV Global in partnership with the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult, SeaRoc Group, Houlder and University of Portsmouth, will set out to verify the benefits and build the case for using autonomous vessels.
As part of the project, ASV Global will use its autonomous control systems to tackle the challenges presented by operating autonomous vessels in the constrained environment of a windfarm. ORE Catapult will work on the use cases and validation of the cost savings created by the project.
SeaRoc Group will extend its SeaPlanner software to assist with monitoring and operating autonomous vehicles and introducing advanced cargo planning systems. University of Portsmouth will assist with efficient route planning, logistics management and system analytics and Houlder will develop the vessel design and an innovative handling system to enable autonomous cargo transfer.
The project team will work with industry sponsor Ørsted who will provide use cases from its Hornsea Project One offshore windfarm 120 km off the Yorkshire coast. Manned operations will be used as the baseline to compare the time, cost and performance of unmanned ships in different roles, including asset surveillance, security patrols, component spares, supply and crew transfer operations.
New products will come from adapting marine co-ordinator systems to operate with both manned and unmanned vessels, optimised navigation systems from autonomous vessels and robotic systems to support offshore operations.
ASV Global senior director, business development Dan Hook said “The WASP project provides the perfect opportunity to show how far autonomous vessels have progressed. A sector roadmap for the integration of autonomous vessels into offshore windfarm operations and maintenance will enable the supply chain to prioritise and address the opportunities and challenges.”
ORE Catapult strategy manager Simon Cheeseman said the project was an excellent example of delivering cross-sector benefit, creating products that can be used across a number of maritime sectors including offshore wind, search and rescue, oil and gas, and border force.
“Automotive, aerospace and defence are all embracing autonomous systems to carry out some of what we term the ‘5Ds’ – jobs which are dull, dangerous, dirty, distributed and dear (expensive),” he said. “Our industry is always looking for ways to reduce the need to send people offshore in a hazardous environment, at the same time as driving down costs whilst continually improving performance. WASP will assess the issues involved in integrating unmanned vessels operations and start to build the evidence to validate our initial findings.”