Consortia led by Kotug and Rosetti Marino have demonstrated technology for remotely controlling tugs, rivalling Kongsberg and Rolls-Royce on the autonomous journey
Owners and operators have demonstrated how tugs can be remotely operated. Tests in June by two consortia proved technology will enable masters to control tugs from shore.
Tug Technology & Business has followed the technical exploits of Svitzer, Rolls-Royce Marine and Lloyd’s Register in developing and testing remote control technology during 2017 and Q1 this year.
The demonstrations were at the forefront of this new stream of automation and control technology and encouraged others to follow and test their own processes. Two other groups exhibited their remote control tug technology in June, with masters controlling vessels from control consoles connected via satellite and mobile phone networks to tug bridge systems.
Kotug successfully tested this technology over more than 1,000 km using Tug Training & Consultancy (TTC)’s 15-m training Rotortug RT Borkum. A master used an Alphatron Marine integrated bridge simulator in the port of Marseille, France to control the tug in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
The captain took control of the tug via a secure internet link over a 4G connection and visualised operations on board RT Borkum using camera images. Both the tug’s bridge systems and the simulator used for this technology demonstration were supplied by JRC’s Alphatron Marine.
Kotug said demonstrations of remote control tugs are the first steps in developing remote control for other workboats and commercial ships, which could lead to the development of unmanned and autonomous shipping.
This live demonstration will be followed up with more tests. Kotug is using a tug simulator operated by its TTC affiliate to further test unmanned tasks. It said this technology could be used in collaboration with testing drone technology for connecting towlines between tugs and ships.
Connectivity for the Marseille trial and other Kotug tests is provided M2M Blue, which provided a stable data connection with a virtual private network tunnel by combining local area network and 4G connection cellular networks. KPN provided the data SIM cards for the stable 4G internet connection.
Master commands on the simulator are converted to protocols that can be transmitted over the internet, received on RT Borkum and converted to command controls. These are transferred through the vessel’s automation from the bridge console to the steering and engine controls using Veth’s technology. Information is then fed back through the tug to the bridge consoles and over the 4G connectivity to the Alphatron simulator.
Real-time sensor technology and video makes it possible to give the remote control captain the situational awareness needed for safe operation. Alphatron was responsible for camera visualisation and system integration in the consoles.
Another demonstration of remote tug technology was carried out in Marseille in late June. Italian shipbuilder Rosetti Marino teamed up with Purple Water to demonstrate remote control of the Lloyd’s Register-certified 26-m double-ended tugboat, Giano. European tug operators trialled remote monitoring and control of this tug.
Sensors and cameras on Giano were sent to the control console on shore over Telespazio’s satellite communications, using a very small aperture terminal (VSAT) and a 4G network. These connections used a secure machine-to-machine system that involved two internet tunnels over VSAT and 4G.
Shipowners from France, Denmark, the Netherlands and Italy tested the technology by manoeuvring Giano during these trials. This included Maersk affiliate Svitzer, which has also tested remote control technology with Rolls-Royce in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Prior to this demonstration, Rosetti Marino tested remote control of Giano over more than 1,000 nautical miles of offshore sailing, manoeuvring it remotely from a shore console using machine-to-machine connections. Rosetti Marino expects this technology to be used for remotely operating tugs for safer escort and handling operations.
Svitzer also sees commercial applications from remote control tug technology. It has considered pursuing an application where a tug is remotely sailed unmanned from one port to another, where a fully-rested crew is waiting to go on board for shifts of towage and ship handling (Tug Technology & Business, Q2 2018).
The Danish tug fleet owner continued testing technical elements that facilitate remote tug control using Rolls-Royce’s smart shipping technology and 2016-built harbour tug Svitzer Hermod.
In July, Rolls-Royce sold its commercial marine unit that included this technology to Kongsberg for around US$650M. Once this sale has been completed, anticipated to be in Q1 2019, Kongsberg is expected to continue development of remote control techniques.
Kongsberg could combine concepts Rolls-Royce developed for autonomous tug operations with Kongsberg’s own technical developments being deployed on the world’s first autonomous commercial ship, Yara Birkeland.
Smart docking technology
Other manufacturers have made progress on remote control or autonomous vessel technology that has implications for tugs including smart docking technology for yachts and passenger ships.
Wärtsilä is developing technology for smart docking of passenger ships using its integrated navigation system (INS) sensors, dynamic positioning, distance and position measuring sensors, lasers and cameras. Wärtsilä product manager for navigation products Eberhard Maass said Smart Quay will be unveiled in September this year and could be applied to other vessel types.
“We have produced a pilot of a device for measuring distances to piers using infrared and high-definition cameras,” he told Tug Technology & Business. “We are generating solutions for extended and augmented reality (ER/AR) and overlaying information on camera feeds,” Mr Maass continued, adding that this includes speed and distance information.
“We are also testing LiDAR [light detection and ranging] technology and will be integrating these sensors into our NACOS Platinum [INS] with some type of augmented reality capability in the future.”
Volvo Penta is developing self-docking technology for yachts and expects this to be launched in 2020. It tested this concept on a Volvo Ocean Race 65 yacht in Gothenburg, Sweden, in June. During this demonstration a 20-m yacht manoeuvred itself between two other similar-sized yachts in port.
This involved an integrated propulsion system linking the helm station to the engine and propulsion, and an electronic vessel control unit which computes steering and drive calculations in relation to the vessel’s actual position and four sensors located on the intended berth.
Bridge developments and merger unveiled
JRC and Alphatron Marine have introduced a simplistic design for bridge systems for vessels navigating inland waterways. They revealed a new version of AlphaBridge Inland in May.
This was designed for vessels that need to lower the wheelhouse when passing under low bridges on rivers and canals. When this happens, control panels can be electronically shifted to a lower level and captains can operate consoles from a seated position without an impact on visibility.
Navico has acquired rival Norwegian company C-Map and its electronic navigational chart distribution services. This will enable Navico to integrate C-Map services with its own ECDIS and radar products for workboats, leisure vessels and commercial ships, combining hardware, software, services and applications.
Remote tug contributors
Stakeholders involved in Kotug’s remote control tug project:
Giano tug design elements