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Maritime Digitalisation & Communications

Ferries could be remotely operated from shore

Thu 11 Jan 2018 by Martyn Wingrove

Ferries could be remotely operated from shore
Nacos Platinum has multifunctional workstations for radar, ECDIS, conning and other control functions

Rolls-Royce and Wärtsilä are developing technology for remote monitoring and control of passenger ships while NTNU has built simulators for teaching future ferry operators

Vehicle and passenger ferries operating on short routes could be unmanned and autonomous by 2020. Rolls-Royce Marine president Mikael Makinen thinks up to five unmanned ferries could be controlled by a single operator in a control room in the future.

He told Passenger Ship Technology that autonomous solutions will be developed faster than anticipated as the benefits are demonstrated. He said auto-crossing (automatic crossing system) technology is being developed by extending the abilities of existing autopilots to enable ferries to become unmanned in the future.

“There have been developments in different [aspects] of situation awareness,” he said. This includes introduction of Lidar and night vision cameras to augment the information that remote control centres would gain from short and long distance radar.

“In Norway, we could have five ferries operated by one person ashore in a remote control centre,” Mr Makinen suggested, if all five are on sea voyages. More operators could be added if multiple ferries were being controlled entering or leaving docks.

There could be several of these remote control and ship intelligence centres globally to enable further steps towards autonomous ships. “Some shipowners will want to do this themselves,” he said, adding that there will be some that will be happy to contract remote monitoring and control of ships to companies like Rolls-Royce. “This is how the market will evolve.”

Rolls-Royce opened a ship intelligence and remote monitoring demonstrator in Ålesund, Norway, in November. In the same innovation centre, the Norwegian University of Science & Technology (NTNU) has built simulators, with ferry models, for testing vessel remote control and autonomous operations. These are both for teaching students on the new skills required for remotely controlling vessels and for testing these new technologies and operations.

Fjord1 targets autonomous operations

NTNU head of nautical education Arnt Myrheim-Holm said a ferry belonging to the Norwegian operator Fjord1 could be one of the first to become remotely controlled. There are currently crew on board this electrically-powered ferry but there will be increasing remote control and autonomous operations in 2018.

NTNU has conducted research into developing autonomous ferries that can transport passengers and vehicles across channels. NTNU Oceans director Ingrid Schjølberg said such ferries would need minimum amounts of on-deck structures and could be alternatives to building bridges or tunnels between islands and mainland. She is also a vice dean for research and innovation at NTNU’s Faculty of Engineering.

These vessels could be barge-design ferries-on-demand with only a few minutes of sailing time, she said. They would have electric propulsion, plus autonomous navigation and anti-collision software. For ferries completing longer distances, there would be extra requirements for remote monitoring and control.

Technology developed for remote controlled and autonomous ships can be used to design and operate partially-autonomous vessels, said Prof Schjølberg. These would include lower-cost sensors, higher computer processing power, e-navigation and decision support tools.

Wärtsilä Marine Solutions is developing technology that enables remote control of passenger ships, as well as other types of vessel. Its president Roger Holm unveiled Wärtsilä’s Smart Marine Ecosystem vision in November.

As part of this, Wärtsilä intends to develop e-navigation, ship optimisation, industry digitalisation and vessel remote control. “The opportunities offered through smart technology will foster a new era of collaboration and knowledge sharing between shipowners, suppliers and partners,” Mr Holm said.

Wärtsilä opened its first digital acceleration centre in Helsinki, Finland in October and another in Singapore in December. Mr Holm described three primary forces that he said will re-shape passenger shipping: big data analytics, which will optimise both operations and energy management; intelligent vessels, which will enable automated and optimised processes; and smart ports, which will result in smoother and faster port operations.

Wärtsilä’s route to this smart marine ecosystem includes its performance-based co-operation with Carnival Corp and its cruise ship fleet. Almost 80 cruise ships are powered by Wärtsilä and these are being monitored. “It is easier to optimise the equipment for the client as it is ours,” said Mr Holm, adding that “other shipowners are looking at our Carnival package and at the joint benefits of this concept”.

Wärtsilä set to unveil new bridge systems

Wärtsilä is developing new hardware and software for its integrated bridge platform for voyage planning, ice operations and collision prevention

Wärtsilä is enhancing the Nacos Platinum integrated bridge system hardware and software, two years after gaining this technology through the acquisition of SAM Electronics from L-3. The upgrade work involves adding voyage planning stations and solid-state radar.

Wärtsilä is also updating the software on this bridge system’s platform with more radar applications and algorithms as it helps the industry develop intelligent shipping.

In an exclusive interview, Wärtsilä product manager for navigation products Eberhard Maass told Passenger Ship Technology that new integrated products will become available through these developments.

“We are currently improving the platform by introducing new monitors for the integrated bridge for use by all types of applications, such as radar, ECDIS, conning, automation and engine controls,” he said. This includes introducing high definition 32 in and 55 in monitors to complement existing 22 in and 24 in displays currently offered.

“There will be voyage planning stations, or tactical tables, incorporating more functionality to ease route planning and monitoring,” said Mr Maass. These stations will incorporate further layers of information on electronic navigational charts, such as weather and environmental data, such as wind, current, sea state and air pressure.

“Three-to-seven day weather forecasts can be used to optimise voyages, to organise pilots and route around bad weather, then optimise the speed over the route,” Mr Maass explained to MEC. Wärtsilä is also adding small monitors to navigator, master and pilot chairs so that other bridge systems and external applications can be operated from those epositions.

Wärtsilä is also developing its radar technology. “We are working on solid state S-band radar that will be available at the end of 2018 and working on functionality that we are calling intelligent radar merging,” said Mr Maass. This will allow two X-band and S-band radar feeds to be merged into one image, which enables bridge teams to use the advantages of both bands, such as the long range of S-band and short-range and high definition of X-band.

“There are also plans to incorporate radar applications that come with non-SOLAS radar, such as wave radar, ice and oil detection and video analytics,” he added. Radar can be used for multiple target detection and analytics and for measuring wave height, period and direction. This comes from advances in algorithms to detect the different types of target, which is useful for Polar navigation.

Wärtsilä is also developing methods for incorporating infrared camera images. “This is useful to cruise ships operating in East Asia where there are many wooden boats, which cannot be easily detected by commercial navigation radar,” Mr Maass explained. This is because wood is not as radar reflective as metal, but heat traces from these boats can be tracked.

For the longer term, Wärtsilä is planning e-navigation and intelligent applications for bridge systems, such as its Smart Predict application. It is participating in the Sea Traffic Management (STM) project for voyage planning and execution and connected logistics chains. This is being administered by Swedish and Danish maritime authorities with the aim to include up to 300 ships, 13 ports and five shore centres.

Wärtsilä’s main part of this project is delivering bridge systems for the ships involved and Mr Maass explained how information is exchanged with all the main partners in the project. “Route plans and schedules are communicated by ships to ports so arrivals can be planned, pilots can be made available and there will be fewer vessel queues,” he said. “Ship masters can plan more optimised schedules with information from the shore.”

He added “We are working on intelligent vessels with more functionality and packages such as anti-collision or anti-grounding features and functions for ECDIS and automatic docking.” These advanced software features should provide more information to bridge teams and improve navigation safety.

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