Autonomous shipping gets multi-company boost

Rolls-Royce, ABB and Wärtsilä have all publicized autonomous vessel initiatives within the past week, indicating that the progress in the development of autonomous shipping, if not its commercial adoption, is gathering pace.

RR and Finnish state-owned ferry operator Finferries last week demonstrated what they described as the world’s first fully autonomous ferry, in the archipelago south of Turku, Finland. Passenger/cargo RoRo Falco (IMO 8685741) used a combination of Rolls-Royce Ship Intelligence technologies to navigate autonomously during its voyage between Parainen and Nauvo.

The Falco is a 53.8m double-ended car ferry which entered service with Finferries in 1993. It is equipped with twin azimuth thrusters from Rolls-Royce.

The return journey was conducted under remote control. The Falco, with 80 invited VIP guests aboard, conducted the voyage under fully autonomous control. The vessel detected objects utilizing sensor fusion and artificial intelligence and conducted collision avoidance. It also demonstrated automatic berthing with a recently developed autonomous navigation system.

The Falco is equipped with a range of advanced sensors which allows it to build a detailed picture of its surroundings, in real time and with a level of accuracy beyond that of the human eye. The situational awareness picture is created by fusing sensor data and it is relayed to Finferries’ remote operating centre (ROC) about 50km away in Turku city centre. A captain monitors the autonomous operations from the ROC, and can take control of the vessel if necessary.

Rolls-Royce said that it had so far clocked close to 400 hours of sea trials during the autonomous operation tests in Turku archipelago.

1993-built, Finland-flagged, 517 gt Falco is owned and managed by Suomen Lauttaliikenne Oy of Turku, Finland.

Meanwhile, ice-class passenger ferry Suomenlinna II (IMO 9315408) was remotely piloted through a test area near Helsinki harbour by ABB and Helsinki City Transport In what ABB described as “the world’s first for an existing passenger ferry”, ABB tested enhancements of ship operations with technologies that it said were “already available for nearly any kind of vessel”.

ABB’s Industrial Automation division president Peter Terwiesch said that “we are excited about the potential impact of this test on the future of the maritime industry. Advanced automation solutions from ABB are making the previously impossible possible for a wide range of sectors, including shipping, which is actively searching for technologies that can rapidly deliver more efficiency and better safety.”

Suomenlinna II was retrofitted with ABB’s new dynamic positioning system, ABB Ability Marine Pilot Control, and steered from a control centre in Helsinki.

ABB said that the  breakthrough trial represented “a crucial step toward increasing the maritime industry’s acceptance of autonomous operation systems”.

Suomenlinna II normally voyages from Helsinki to Suomenlinna fortress, the UNESCO World Heritage site on a nearby island. For the remote piloting trial, the ferry departed from Helsinki’s market square, Kauppatori, and Captain Heinonen wirelessly operated Suomenlinna II with ABB Ability Marine Pilot Control through a pre-selected area of Helsinki harbour.

The trial took place during the vessel’s off hours, away from shore with no passengers aboard, in an area free of other vessels.

2004-built, Finland-flagged, 329 gt Suomenlinna II is owned and managed by Suomenlinnan Liikenne OY. It is entered with Gard AS on behalf of Suomenlinnan Liikenne Oy, originally built in 2004, is fitted with ABB’s icebreaking Azipod electric propulsion system and was retrofitted with ABB Ability Marine Pilot Vision situational awareness solution in 2017. Suomenlinna II operates year-round.

Finally, Wärtsilä’s test (announced November 28th) took place aboard the hybrid-powered passenger/cargo RoRo Folgefonn (IMO 9172090), which operates a three-stop route in Hordaland, Norway. During the trial, the Wärtsilä autonomy suite handled all navigational operations along the full route, including docking and undocking. A master was on the bridge to take command should it become necessary, but during the demonstration, the captain’s only intervention was to press a button to instruct the vessel to begin each leg of the voyage. Wärtsilä said that the test was “a major milestone” It said that it believed this to be the first ever attempt at “fully automated dock-to-dock operation, in complete hands-off mode, for a vessel of this size.” 1998-built, Norway-flagged, 1,182 gt Folgefonn is owned and ISM managed by Norled AS of Stavanger. It is ISM managed by Tide Asia of Bergen, Norway