Keppel Offshore & Marine (O&M) and ABB are the first to successfully control a tugboat remotely in southern Asia
They worked together to control a Keppel Smit Towage tug from a shore base using autonomous vessel and simulation technologies.
A vessel master used joystick controls in the shore command centre at the Maritime and Port Authority’s Maritime Innovation Lab in April 2021 to remotely control 2011-built harbour tugboat Maju 510 in the Port of Singapore. Keppel O&M and ABB retrofitted the 32-m, Singapore-flagged tug with autonomous technology as part of a research and development (R&D) project funded by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore as part of the Singapore Maritime R&D Roadmap 2030.
This trial marks a major milestone in validating the increased safety and efficiency of tug operations.
ABB provided an integrated solution for the remote and autonomous control of the tug based on is Ability Marine Pilot product family supplying sensors from onboard systems to generate digital situational awareness on the tug and at the command centre. The Ability Marine Pilot Control system executed the necessary intelligent manoeuvring and control commands.
Keppel Smit Towage managing director Romi Kaushal said remote control technologies will provide support to tug captains. “As a tug operator, we leverage technology to improve our operations,” he said. “With Maju 510 as a pilot tug, we are able to experience and provide feedback on how autonomous operations can help the tug captain and crew to simplify navigation to focus on crucial tasks,” Mr Kaushal explained. “This has the potential to significantly enhance operational safety and efficiency.”
Tug operations, where a tugboat manoeuvres other vessels by pushing or towing them, can be extremely demanding requiring the full attention of the crew. Additionally, tugs often complete lengthy and monotonous transit legs to get to their place of operation.
Performing the transit autonomously and under remote supervision would enable the onboard crew to rest and be alert when they are needed in the actual work of the tug.
Station keeping with remote assistance may also provide opportunities for onboard crew to rest rather than performing routine tasks that can be managed as effectively or better by remote crew.
ABB Marine & Ports division president Juha Koskela said this milestone is a significant step towards autonomous shipping. “The intent of this technology is to relieve crew of tasks that can be automated, enabling them to perform at their best during critical periods, and enhancing the overall safety and productivity of marine operations,” said Mr Koskela
“This trial also confirms the possibility for applying remote and autonomous technology to other vessel types.”
The Port of Singapore, with more than 130,000 vessels calling annually, is a challenging location for testing these technologies as it presents one of the most complex settings for autonomous harbour operations in the world.
Keppel O&M managing director for newbuilds Tan Leong Peng said “remote control navigation is an important feature of autonomous vessels as it acts as a safeguard and is especially useful in certain complicated scenarios,” he said.
“As the overall system integrator, we are collaborating with the Keppel ecosystem of companies such as M1 with its connectivity solutions, as well as other partners such as ABB, to offer customisable autonomous solutions.
“This is in line with Keppel’s Vision 2030, which includes harnessing advanced technologies for growth.”
A second phase of this R&D project, scheduled for Q4 2021, will see Maju 510 perform autonomous collision avoidance tasks while under remote supervision.
ABB has previously delivered technology for a trial of a remotely operated passenger ferry, Suomenlinna II, carried out in Helsinki harbour in November 2018.
Singapore has become a hub for autonomous vessel and remote control pilot projects with PSA Marine previously teaming up with Wärtsilä in Singapore for autonomous navigation trials.
PACC Offshore Services Holdings (POSH) is pushing the autonomous technology boundaries for harbour tugs. It successfully trialled autonomous navigation and artificial intelligence innovations on ship-handling tug POSH Harvest in partnership with ST Engineering in 2020.
There have been multiple trials elsewhere in 2019 and 2020. In Japan, NYK and Japan Marine Science collaborated on two research projects with Japanese Government backing to trial remote navigation and collision avoidance on vessels including a tug in Tokyo Bay.
In the Netherlands, Kotug International passed a new milestone in autonomous vessel navigation in September 2020 with a successful demonstration using a training harbour tug. It tested smart navigation on RT Borkum training tug in Rotterdam, being the first vessel in the world to autonomously sail the most optimal route in a port setting.
Dutch tug operator Herman Senior said it would upgrade one of its vessels with autonomous navigation to improve operational safety using remote-helm control system from Sea Machines Robotics.
In the US, Sea Machines Robotics has supplied its remote command technology to articulated tug-barge units and for Foss’ latest escort tug newbuilding.
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