Rolls-Royce is studying automatic mooring technology as part of its autonomous tugboat concept.
Its marine group, which is up for sale, is looking at developing robotic cranes that could be used for hooking up ships to tugs during towage operations.
A robotic crane could also be used for docking and line removal without the need for crew or port personnel to assist.
This is one of several technology ideas that Rolls-Royce senior vice president for concepts and innovation Oskar Levander expects to be needed for tugs to become unmanned.
“We are aiming to develop a fully autonomous tug and we are looking at autonomous hook-up and mooring,” he said in a presentation at Rolls-Royce’s new research and development facility in Turku, Finland.
“We want to develop this to make it a reality and make tugs more efficient,” he said. Line handling rail cranes would be stowed away until they are needed, so would heave lines, anchors and deck winch equipment on Rolls-Royce’s autonomous tug concept design.
This tugboat would need upgraded communications networks that could link to satellites and cellular networks and situational awareness systems, including LIDAR, cameras and radar. There would be no deckhouse and no crew accommodation. But there would be hatches with access to the engineroom for maintenance.
Rolls-Royce has already demonstrated how a tug could be remotely controlled from a shore operations centre and Mr Levander said further developments and tests to this technology are coming this year.