Svitzer is at the forefront of tug bridge and electronics technology as it conducts further remote-control testing of a harbour tug
Trials on a remote-controlled tug this year and in 2019 will test technical aspects of remote control, expanding on work done by Maersk subsidiary Svitzer last year.
Those initial trials of the technology used the same 2016-built terminal tug Svitzer Hermod and validated that a master could control a vessel in a harbour from a shore-based remote operating centre. Svitzer chief operating officer Leonardo Sonzio told Tug Technology & Business that this additional work will consider additional functions from those confirmed last year.
Svitzer is working with Rolls-Royce marine technology and Lloyd's Register classification services to validate remote-control concepts. This technology involves a suite of sensors on the tug that sends information to the remote control centre over cellular communication networks.
Commands from the operating centre are sent back to the tug's manoeuvring controls that are incorporated within a Rolls-Royce dynamic positioning system. This commands Svitzer Hermod's thrusters to control the vessel's positioning and manoeuvring as directed by the master located in the shore office.
There is a full suite of bridge systems within the tug's wheelhouse that are used when the Sanmar-built vessel is not involved in remote-control tests. In the remote operating centre, there is Furuno Electric-supplied ECDIS, radar and displays for the engineroom systems and situational awareness additions.
"Sensors onboard are feeding data to the algorithms, which we must have for autonomous navigation," said Mr Sonzio. "Sensor technology is becoming cheaper and computer power is improving, which means there is more data for analysis."
Cameras on Svitzer Hermod, including thermal ones for night vision, provide imagery to the displays that provide 120° of view to the master. This is augmented by information from other sensors and information devices, such as laser-based LiDAR sensors, vessel Automatic Identification System (AIS), radar and an inertial navigation system that provides tug positioning and motion data.
Mr Sonzio said all these sensors improve visibility for masters, as does a clear view from the remote control room that is not obstructed by bridge structures and clutter. "We trialled Svitzer Hermod at night and in fog and snow conditions," he explained at the British Tugowners Association conference in Worcester, UK, in April.
"We used radar, AIS, thermal cameras and even fog horns for directional sound." Mr Sonzio explained that one of the drawbacks was that weather had an impact on the LiDAR sensors. "They are laser-based and reflectivity was reduced in snowy conditions."
"Autonomy should improve operational safety, reliability and efficiency"
All this information adds to the master 's intelligence and awareness, with potential onboard benefits. Mr Sonzio thinks there are benefits to tug operations from developing remote-control technology. "Autonomy should improve operational safety, reliability and efficiency," he said.
He sees one of the benefits as providing rest time for crews during tug transits, which is important for an operator that can cluster its tugs in multiple ports. "If we mobilise a tug to another port, we can rest the crew on board and they can be ready when the tug arrives in the next harbour," Mr Sonzio explained.
"This will increase our utilisation, but there is a lot of testing and verifying performance and reliability to do." This will require investment but since Svitzer is part of the Maersk group of companies, results from tug remote control tug testing can be migrated across different divisions, such as terminal operations and container ships, a business case can be made for this investment, Mr Sonzio said.
Remote control and monitoring technology could aid Maersk's terminal marine operations as it would enable pilots to operate from shore offices. "Intelligent awareness could enable remote piloting," Mr Sonzio commented. "Moving this control to shore means there would be no need to take pilots out to the ships."
He told Tug Technology & Business that further developments in remote control technology are expected to be introduced this year and in 2019 to enable Svitzer to trial different operational requirements from its tugs. For example, Rolls-Royce and Svitzer will be testing waypoint routeing and sound stimulation in remote-control trials, said Mr Sonzio.
Rolls-Royce ship intelligence director Kevin Daffey said sound had been added to its remote control centre in Turku, Finland, after Svitzer masters advised they needed feedback from the tug's machinery. "We put microphones on the vessel so masters can hear engines throttling up," said Mr Daffey. "We introduced a rumbling platform in our remote-control facility to simulate engine sounds."
All this investment needs to provide operational benefits to vessel owners. "We need to remove some of the human errors and find ways to avoid collisions and groundings," Mr Sonzio explained.
"Data transferred from ship to shore enables condition-based maintenance and then predictive maintenance." It could also help reduce fuel consumption. Maersk will consider remote control and intelligent awareness technology for its vessels after Svitzer has trialled more of this technology.
Business case doubts arise
Tug operators at the British Tugowners Association conference in April voiced doubts that remote-control technology could deliver benefits to their businesses. There were questions from the floor about whether it would solve any issues that owners face or whether autonomous navigation systems were intelligent enough to avoid a collision.
There were also questions about who would be liable in a collision involving an autonomous tug or vessel and which laws would need changing for remote-control tugs operating in national and international waters.
Kotug Smit Towage chief executive Rene Raaijmakers questioned whether there would be the possibility of resting crew during tug transits, as Svitzer chief operating officer Leonardo Sonzio suggested as a potential benefit.
Mr Raaijmakers told Tug Technology & Business that Kotug Smit does not often transfer tugs between ports, as most of its vessels operate in one area, for example in Southampton, UK, or Rotterdam, in the Netherlands.
"With this technology the costs will be higher, but it does not solve any problems," he said. "There are no business benefits of mobilising tugs, so there is no need to rest crew."
New bridge electronics unveiled
Flir Systems subsidiary Raymarine has introduced new applications in its Axiom line of multifunction navigation displays (MFD). Together with Axiom Innovations, Raymarine has developed the LightHouse 3 operating software for Axiom MFDs with a series of applications for vessel navigation and remote monitoring.
These include Raymarine's own Android-compatible mobile applications and those developed by other companies. Some of the third-party applications available include the Seakeeper gyro stabiliser control and Mazu mSeries global satellite communications, which allows users to send messages, receive weather forecasts, and monitor their vessel from anywhere in the world.
Just like Raymarine, SevenCs released an online software application to assist with navigation. It introduced the tile map service software tool ChartServer, which can be used by fleet monitoring, vessel tracking and surveying applications on mobile devices.
ChartServer enables these devices to display maritime navigation charts of International Hydrographic Organization standards S-57 and S-63.
For ocean-going tugs, Dutch start-up MO4 has developed a vessel motion forecasting tool. This includes an onboard motion monitoring device and weather forecast software. MO4 accurately and clearly shows how the incoming weather will impact long-distance towage operations.