Rolls-Royce has signed a deal with Stena Line AB to collaborate in the development of its first intelligent awareness system – a step further towards its goal of achieving autonomous vessels.
Explaining the benefits of the system – which provides crew with an enhanced understanding of the vessel’s surroundings by fusing data from a range of sensors with information from existing ship systems – Liro Lindborg, Rolls-Royce general manager, remote and autonomous solutions, commented: “In the first phase this will be an advisory solution, advising crew on board, but it is an enabler for us on the roadmap for autonomous shipping, as the solution can detect and see what is around the vessel without being on board.”
Stena is using it as an advisory solution to boost safety. Mr Lindborg said: “We are developing the solutions for their purposes and to benefit their operations. We started the project last week and we are looking at how best to utilise the systems on board.” The main benefit for Stena, which is trialling the system on one vessel, is safety. “The ferry is going on a route that, especially in summer, has lots of small boats and other obstacles so it is an ideal platform to test the solution to see how it operates in that environment.” He added: “We have a collaborative approach, it is not an off-the-shelf solution but customised to our needs.”
Harry Robertsson, technical director at Stena Teknik, expert technical advisors to the Swedish ferry company, commented on the pilot scheme: “Stena Teknik continuously conducts research and development in the marine technology sector. This project gives us an opportunity to explore how new technologies can be integrated with the systems we already have on board and to provide a more informed view of a vessel’s surroundings in an accessible and user-friendly way. This will give our crew an enhanced decision support tool, increasing the safety of our vessels.”
The next step to move towards autonomous shipping is to link the intelligent awareness system to Rolls-Royce’s recently launched automated control system, which is to be used by Fjord1’s new electric ferries. “We are looking at this as remote capability. It is important to sense the surroundings, not just the control of the vessel and in that sense the intelligent awareness is critical, you need to know [in an autonomous ship] what is happening around the vessel, you can’t just fully base judgements on information from other systems,” said Mr Lindborg.
He said it was likely that the two systems would be linked next year. Rolls-Royce expects to be able to undertake an Approval of Concept and have its intelligent awareness product commercially available later in 2017. The system builds on experiences from development work worldwide. The intelligent awareness system will benefit from Rolls-Royce’s extensive experience in the Tekes-funded project Advanced Autonomous Waterborne Applications Initiative (AAWA), which has been running since June 2015. The company has been conducting a series of tests of the sensor arrays in a range of operating and climatic conditions on board Finferries’ 65m double-ended ferry Stella, which operates between Korpo and Houtskär in the Archipelago Sea on the southwest coast of Finland.