Tug owners have invested in autonomous technology, AI, CCTV and digitalisation for enhanced monitoring and vessel navigation, while new radar and sonar are unveiled
Wheelhouse technology is advancing to enable autonomous tug navigation, more effective hazard avoidance and performance improvements. New technology is being tested and existing navigation aids improved with better functionality.
The latest developments in autonomous vessel navigation highlight the potential benefits from providing further assistance on the bridge.
Kotug International passed a new milestone in autonomous vessel navigation with a successful demonstration using Rotortug-designed training harbour tug RT Borkum in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, in September, trialling software that autonomously pilots an unmanned vessel in a busy port.
RT Borkum became the first vessel in the world to autonomously sail the most optimal route on the river Nieuwe Maas in Rotterdam using the Captain AI route planner and autopilot.
“The route planner can be seen as the Google Maps for waterways,” said Captain AI’s Vincent Wegener. “It calculates the route, which the boat then autonomously sails, using our autopilot software.”
Kotug general manager Patrick Everts explained the process further. “The digital captain has to know what the vessel’s destination is and how to get there in the most efficient way,” he said.
“Linking Captain AI’s software to OptiPort is not only making the skipper’s life easier because vessels can autonomously navigate the optimal route, but also saves fuel and CO2 emissions,” Mr Everts added. He is also general manager of Tug Training & Consultancy and OptiPort.
In that role, Mr Everts presented OptiPort and artificial intelligence (AI) technology during Riviera’s Smart tugs: the industry’s Tesla, or still on the test bed? webinar on 1 September 2020, which was part of Tug Technology Webinar Week.
Mr Everts said tug owners can use AI to manage and schedule their existing tug fleets. “Owners need to make tugs more efficient, safer and greener using data and software,” he said. Owners could reduce operating expenditure by up to 30% using AI-based software such as OptiPort to manage tug dispatch.
“AI is an additional brain for tug dispatch,” said Mr Everts. “It helps dispatchers make the right decisions for smart scheduling to reduce opex costs 25-30% and enable business continuity. Tugs in multiple ports could be dispatched from one location,” he added. Kotug and Captain AI have partnered to further develop and commercialise the software.
In North America, US Coast Guard (USCG) is testing autonomous navigation and control technology on a new Sharktech 29 Defiant vessel. Louisiana-based shipbuilder Metal Shark Boats will supply the 9-m aluminium-hulled vessel with an SM300 autonomous-command and remote-helm control module.
After tests in Hawaii, this vessel will be further trialled at USCG’s Research and Development Center in New London, Connecticut, for surveillance, interdiction, patrol and other missions. SM300 provides advanced capabilities, including transit autonomy, collaborative autonomy, collision avoidance and remote vessel monitoring.
In Brazil, Wilson Sons has added closed circuit TV (CCTV) and network cabling to the wheelhouses of its tug fleet, enabling real-time visualisation of operations and manoeuvres. This was developed by its IT team with Tuglab. 480 cameras and a local internet network will be installed by the end of this year.
Its tugboats are also fitted with wifi hotspots on the bridge, engineroom and galleys. These enable crew to connect to Wilson Sons systems using mobile devices.
Wilson Sons also invested in AI and internet of things (IoT) to enhance towage operations. AI enables operations to be planned using data and information, said Wilson Sons towage division regional manager Elisio Dourado during the webinar.
He said IoT and telemetry are used to improve maintenance and safety and reduce emissions from a fleet of more than 80 tugs.
“In our innovation journey, we have invested a lot in AI – it is a game-changer for the whole sector,” said Mr Dourado. “AI is used to optimise fleet operations. We can improve our activities through data and AI.”
Wilson Sons uses its Stella platform for business intelligence, data sharing, operations management, predictions and forecasting, asset optimisation and real-time monitoring.
Tug operators can analyse information from bridge systems, automation and engineroom machinery for condition monitoring and proactive maintenance. Schottel sales director for automation and digital products Jan Glas said owners can gain insight to support key operational decisions and analyse trends.
Data could include “operating hours, fuel consumption, temperature, engine and generator revolutions, pressure, voltage, set-point and feedback,” said Mr Glas during the webinar.
Information sourced from tug systems could be interpreted alongside data from the operating environment. Information from bridge systems would include the tug’s GPS position, heading, speed, turning rates and acceleration.
Data could be sourced from radar, echo sounder and automatic identification system (AIS) information. Other vessel data includes tank levels, valve settings, flow rates and vibration sensors.
Once this data is collated, it can be transferred on the tug for onboard processing and then to a cloud storage facility, said Mr Glas. “We need to send precise information to shore,” he said. “There should be a buffer. If there is no internet connection, datasets could be sent later when there is a connection.”
Processed data would be displayed for tug master and chief engineer to support operational decisions. It could also be accessed from shore, analysed and checked against previous data for benchmarking and used for trending.
Mr Glas said data would be used by remote support teams and incident analysis. “We can use data for root-cause analysis of issues,” he said.
“The goal is closing the loop of information flow as an added value in optimising fleet operations and management.” This involves connecting knowledge from different domains and improving communications.
Alongside its rudderpropeller propulsion units, Schottel can provide advanced alarm monitoring (AlarMon), integrated automation (AutoControl) and power management (PowerControl) systems for tugs. It also supplies thruster controls and condition monitoring systems. Schottel is also developing intelligent systems for marine automation and digitalisation through its 50% stake in Blue CTRL.
Japan Radio Co (JRC) and Alphatron Marine have supplied bridge systems to many Rotortugs operated by Kotug. They are also supplying integrated bridge systems to four tugs under construction for Seabulk Towing, a subsidiary of Seacor Holdings. Master Boat Builders is building two ART 90-98US and two RApport 3000 design tugs for offshore towing from ports in the Gulf of Mexico and Florida coast, scheduled for delivery in 2021.
These integrated bridge systems combine navigation, communication equipment and controls for engines, propulsion, lighting, and winches. Equipment consists of radars, autopilot controls, GPS, depth sounder, navigation computers and internal communications. All this is included in the AlphaTugboat bridge for full control from a sitting position and all-round visibility.
In September, Alphatron Marine introduced a new JRC radar for navigation in inland waterways. JMR-611 has an aerodynamic scanner, modified motor and suppresses wave action. It meets stricter requirements for maximum reflection from radar monitors. It comes with fully dimmable 19-in light-emitting diode monitors.
Garmin International has unveiled its new GMR Fantom 254/256 open-array radar. This solid-state marine radar delivers 250 W of pulse compression power. It uses Garmin’s MotionScope technology to detect and follow moving targets in different colours for hazard avoidance or to track weather.
Fantom 254/256 radar combines short- and long-range target detection with automatic acquisition, improved radar plotting on electronic charts and scan-to-scan averaging functions. Improved target precision enhances visibility and situational awareness in the wheelhouse.
At 250 W of solid-state power and a target range of 5 m to 96 nautical miles, the Fantom 254/256 outperforms even 25-kW magnetron radars by maximising energy and range resolution using pulse compression technology, said Garmin.
Narrow horizonal beam width assists in creating a high-resolution image and high-sensitivity target detection capabilities.
Garmin has also introduced a remote monitoring and management device for vessels. Its OnDeck System can be paired with the ActiveCaptain application on mobile devices for monitoring vessel battery status, bilge activity, door/hatch sensors and GPS location.
Sonar can also be used to improve situational awareness and hazard avoidance. FarSounder’s Argos forward-looking sonar (FLS) has been integrated into Quality Positioning Services’ Qinsy survey software package. This enables Argos sonar users to display FLS bathymetric data in the Qinsy software, along with other survey data they capture.
Smartgyro has introduced the SG40 and SG80 gyroscopic stabilisers to reduce vessel roll in different sea states. These have high-speed rotating flywheels in sealed, airless enclosures and control electronics, equipped with algorithms that optimise the operating parameters in real time. Smartgyro units are liquid cooled and have long-life bearings.
Class approves digital twin for bridge system monitoring
Lloyd’s Register (LR) has awarded Digital Twin Ready certification to Furuno Electric’s Greek subsidiary for its HermAce smart onboard system. This is the first time LR has issued this type of certificate for a digital health management system in the marine and offshore industry.
Furuno Hellas developed HermAce to collect and monitor data on bridge navigation and communications equipment to support remote troubleshooting and problem rectifications. Data is collated on board tugs through a dedicated server and is transmitted ashore using satellite or 4G communications.
HermAce uses a digital twin as a virtual replica of bridge systems, based on data streamed directly from a ship. Furuno can use this digital twin to remotely monitor, maintain and test onboard equipment, reducing costs and engineer travelling requirements. This digital twin can be analysed to identify, diagnose and resolve problems remotely while the ships remains in operation.
During LR’s evaluations, it analysed the engineering lifecycle processes and the workflow involved in the HermAce model. LR also evaluated algorithm development, software conformity and practices concerning information security, to ensure they were in accordance with the Digital Twin Ready requirements.
LR said digital twins meeting all four stages of its assurance of digital requirements are “dependable, trusted digital tools sharing real-time information, predicting failures and providing technical input for improvement actions.”
Upgrade boosts vessel monitoring and route planning
Navico subsidiary C-Map has upgraded its FleetManager web-based vessel route monitoring service to a fourth version with new interfaces and overlays. Vessel operators can use this service for voyage planning, weather routeing and monitoring vessel performance.
FleetManager 4.0 includes new weather data overlays, upgraded interfaces, and can be fully integrated with Microsoft Power BI business intelligence and analytics dashboards to display vessel performance in real time.
Managers can use C-Map Routing Service and weather forecast information to compare recommended routes against the master’s intended routes. C-Map has added 17 new types of weather forecast data for overlay on charts.
Available weather layers now include sea surface temperature, fog/visibility, precipitation, and ice. These are in addition to layers such as wind speed, wave height, surface pressure, and tropical storm tracks that were available previously.