Two successful trials in Singapore will be followed by remote pilotage tests in the Baltic as wheelhouse advances continue to support tug masters
Further developments are expected in remote control and pilotage technologies for tugs over the next two years following successful projects in Singapore. While in the Middle East, at least one ship has been remotely piloted through the Suez Canal.
Owners such as Svitzer and Kotug International have tested remote tug operations in Europe. Svitzer has remotely controlled harbour tug Svitzer Hermod in several trials using Kongsberg Maritime’s bridge and dynamic positioning technology.
Kotug remotely controlled its training tug in Rotterdam from a mobile workstation in Marseille, France. For this, Kotug won a Riviera Maritime Media technology innovation award in 2019.
Autonomous tug technology testing has shifted away from Europe, and away from remotely controlling a vessel, to introducing computerised control on board as a support tool for the master.
In Singapore, PSA Marine and PACC Offshore Services Holdings (POSH) each completed a testing programme. POSH conducted sea trials of autonomous vessel technology on ship-handling tug POSH Harvest in partnership with ST Engineering.
They tested autonomous navigation, remote control and other technologies during Smart Maritime Autonomous Vessel (SMAV) project tests in April 2020.
These trials were conducted in various scenarios and speeds up to 8.5 knots, while POSH Harvest was in autonomous waypoint navigation mode.
POSH converted its harbour tug into an autonomous vessel incorporating hazard detection and collision avoidance and NERVA ship management systems. Onboard sensors detect potential hazards and onboard AI algorithms provide information for changing routes to prevent collisions during autonomous waypoint navigation.
This algorithm works in accordance with IMO’s international collision avoidance regulations (COLREGS), particularly for overtaking, head-on and route crossing.
POSH also installed a remote centralised control and health monitoring systems on POSH Harvest. SMAV project teams intend to continue developing and testing autonomous vessel technology during 2020.
PSA Marine and Wärtsilä plan to introduce autonomous technology to terminal and harbour operations following completion of sea trials on a harbour tug. They worked with classification society Lloyd’s Register and the Technology Centre for Offshore and Marine Singapore on the IntelliTug project, which was co-funded by Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore’s (MPA) Maritime Innovation and Technology fund.
During Q4 2019 and Q1 2020, autonomous tug technology was tested on harbour tug PSA Polaris. With its successful conclusion, PSA Marine says it intends to deploy it on more vessels. Detailed summaries of these projects and their enabling technology will be presented during Riviera’s planned Smart Tug Operations Conference, scheduled to be held in Singapore on 13 October.
In March 2020, Egypt took a technology lead for remote pilotage when a cruise ship was assisted through the Suez Canal. A team of pilots on escort tugs remotely navigated Italian cruise ship Costa Diadema from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea when it was deemed unsafe to board because the vessel had 65 cases of coronavirus on board.
Four Suez Canal Authority pilots on two tugs worked in co-ordination with the transit control offices to sail this cruise ship northbound. They were assisted by radar guidance and information from navigation monitoring stations along the seaway.
This technology will be tested in the Baltic region from 2021 under the Sea4Value (S4V) - Future Fairway Navigation programme. Finnpilot Pilotage director Sanna Sonninen says “The aim is to demonstrate important milestones on the journey towards a smart and autonomous maritime transport system.” Early trials could involve remotely piloting a cruise ship into berth.
S4V is a programme run by DIMECC, a consortium of northern Europe companies and research organisations, which is also creating the One Sea ecosystem for innovation in autonomous shipping over the next five years.
One Sea senior ecosystem lead Jukka Merenluoto says remote pilotage tests will enable further development of autonomous vessel technology. Future Fairway Navigation “lays the foundation for future autonomous vessels,” he says, “It “will be a safe channel with a combination of increased awareness and connectivity.” This programme will test existing technology such as weather modelling, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.
There will be sensor fusion for situational awareness, digital twins of the fairways, business modelling and data processing.
The information sharing platform will be cyber secure with application interfaces for users. Data will be transferred to a cloud storage facility using satellite communications and 4G/5G mobile networks.
“We aim to include experiments and demonstrations for remote and auto-pilotage,” says Mr Merenluoto. He also expects results from the programme will be provided to regulators for future guidance and to enable greater industry acceptance of autonomous navigation technology.
ABB Marine & Ports head of regulatory affairs Captain Eero Lehtovaara expects technology to be trialled to sense obstacles using cameras, radar and lidar (light detection and ranging). This sensor fusion will be mixed with algorithms for collision avoidance, risk assessment and power optimisation to support vessel masters.
“In most cases, human-in-the-loop will continue and technology on board will be for decision support,” says Capt Lehtovaara. “We will see changes in how people work on board.”
Technology will improve tug masters’ situational awareness and provide more motion control, vessel handling and machinery control.
In the Netherlands, marine research institute MARIN is measuring the ability for autonomous navigation software to comply with COLREGS. This follows its co-operation with UK-headquartered Robosys Automation for swapping technology.
MARIN’s maritime operations division will measure compliance of different software to COLREGS and compare it with Robosys’ Voyager 100 autonomous navigation software. That software was sea trialled with three vessels in a joint industry project in the North Sea in March 2019.
On the back of these measurements, MARIN will use compliance scoring software to claim an obstacle avoidance capability and will compile a list of performance results. This will facilitate fast checking of the conformance efficiency of the software.
In February, MARIN acquired Voyager 100 software and sold its Dolphin Simulation Software to Robosys.
Harbour vessels could be controlled by Sea Machines Robotics’ technology as more operators are using the remote units. The latest is Dutch survey group Deep BV, which will upgrade one of its vessels with autonomous controls. It will install Sea Machines Robotics’ SM300 autonomous command and advanced perception technology for a remote survey of the Wadden Sea, north of the Netherlands. Its operators will command and control the autonomous vessel and all onboard payloads, including survey sonars, hydrophones, winches, cranes and davits from its shoreside survey control centre.
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