Autonomous Shipping Nearly Here, Report Says

29 June 2016

Technology—particularly sensor technology—already exists to make autonomous shipping in the maritime industry a reality by the end of the decade, according to a new whitepaper.

The Rolls-Royce led Advanced Autonomous Waterborne Applications Initiative (AAWA) published the whitepaper to coincide with its presentations at the Autonomous Ship Technology Symposium 2016 in Amsterdam. The whitepaper outlines the project’s vision of how remote and autonomous shipping will become a reality.

“This is happening. It’s not if, it’s when,” said Oskar Levander, Rolls-Royce, vice president of Innovation – Marine. “The technologies needed to make remote and autonomous ships a reality exist. The AAWA project is testing sensor arrays in a range of operating and climatic conditions in Finland and has created a simulated autonomous ship control system which allows the behavior of the complete communication system to be explored. We will see a remote controlled ship in commercial use by the end of the decade.”

According to the whitepaper, unmanned ships will “open up exciting possibilities” on how ships are designed and function.

“When there are no people on board, many constraints on the ship layou

Developing autonomous shipping technology  would open up design options for ships, according to a new whitepaper.
Developing autonomous shipping technology would open up design options for ships, according to a new whitepaper.

t are removed,” the whitepaper said. “One of the most obvious is the removal of the accommodation and with that the entire deckhouse. This will save cost, weight and space, as well as enabling the ship to carry more cargo.”

Future vessels will still need human input form land, making connectivity between the ship and shore crucial, according to the whitepaper.

“Such communication will needed to be bidirectional, accurate, scalable and supported by multiple systems, creating redudancy and minimizing risk,” the whitepaper said.

The AAWA whitepaper explores the research carried out to date on the business case for autonomous applications, the safety and security implications of designing and operating remotely operated ships, the legal and regulatory dimensions and the existence and readiness of a supplier network to deliver commercially applicable products in the short to medium term.

The whitepaper draws on a wide range of expertise from academic researchers from some of Finland’s leading universities: Tampere University of Technology; VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd; Åbo Akademi University; Aalto University; and the University of Turku. Industry input has been provided by leading members of the maritime cluster including Rolls-Royce, Brighthouse NAPA, Deltamarin, DNV GL and Inmarsat.

The project also has the support of shipowners and operators. The tests of sensor arrays are being carried out aboard Finferries’ 65-m double ended ferry, the Stella, which operates between Korpo and Houtskär. ESL Shipping Ltd is helping explore the implications of remote and autonomous ships for the short sea cargo sector.


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