Autonomous tug trials completed in Singapore

Finnish technology group Wärtsilä and Singapore-based towage services provider PSA Marine said late last week that they had completed successfully the initial sea trials for the IntelliTug autonomous ship project.

The PSA Polaris, a harbour tug owned and operated by PSA Marine, was retrofitted with a suite of Wärtsilä technology to enable autonomous navigation.

The trials began in Singapore in September 2019. They verified the IntelliTug’s capability to avoid a variety of obstacles, including virtual and real-life moving vessels.

These trials were Singapore’s first for commercial Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) using the MPA MASS regulatory sandbox, which has been established to facilitate the testing of MASS and other autonomous technologies in a safe and controlled environment within the Port of Singapore.

The IntelliTug trials are part of the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore’s (MPA) MASS initiative which aims to accelerate the industry’s R&D capability in this field and validate new MASS-related concepts of operations and technologies.

Captain M Segar, Assistant Chief Executive (Operations) of MPA, said that it was “critical that we prepare the Port of Singapore for MASS. With MPA’s MASS regulatory sandbox, I am glad that Singapore can contribute to the sea trials and eventual adoption of MASS. We will be happy to share our MASS experience with other ports and coastal administrations,”

The PSA Polaris is a 27-metre harbour tug with dual azimuth thruster controls. It has been fitted with a sensor suite, including Wärtsilä’s RS24 near-field high resolution radar and Wärtsilä’s Dynamic Positioning (DP) system, to enable autonomous capabilities.

Data collection via the sensors has been ongoing since the start of the project. in conjunction with the development of a collision avoidance algorithm.

Peter Chew, Managing Director of PSA Marine. Rigorous Testing for Autonomous Development, said that “with the incorporation of feedback and experience from our tug masters, the smart technology developed in the IntelliTug project augments our tug masters’ situational awareness and amplifies their capabilities. We will continue to work closely with the stakeholders and look forward to future developments of the project”.

During the sea trials, a new smart navigation system – developed during the project in cooperation with PSA Marine’s Tug Masters – was used to select destinations for the hundreds of test cases carried out. The system allowed the user to see the routes plotted in real time. The smart navigation system also sent track and speed commands to the DP system, which drove the vessel along the route at varying speeds of up to 10 knots.

The PSA Marine Tug Masters were at all times able to determine if the tests were safe to continue and had full control to abort testing at any time, should that have been necessary.

The development work on the IntelliTug and its systems will be continued through 2020.