Rolls-Royce and tug operator Svitzer demonstrated the world’s first remotely operated commercial vessel in Copenhagen harbour, Denmark
Svitzer has demonstrated that it is possible to remotely control a tug in a harbour for various operations without the need for any crew on board. It worked with Rolls-Royce to test the technology in a live environment using one of its newest tugs. Svitzer Hermod conducted the remotely controlled manoeuvres in Copenhagen harbour, Denmark in June. The 28m vessel’s captain controlled the vessel from the remote base at Svitzer’s headquarters, berthed it alongside the quay, undocked the vessel, turned it 360°, piloted it to Svitzer headquarters, before docking again.
Robert Allan-designed Svitzer Hermod was built in 2016 at Sanmar Shipyard, Turkey. It is equipped with a Rolls-Royce dynamic positioning system, which is the key link to the remote controlled system. The vessel is also equipped with a pair of MTU 16V4000 M63 diesel engines from Rolls-Royce, each rated 2,000kW at 1,800 rpm.
Svitzer Hermod features a range of sensors which combine different data inputs using advanced software to give the captain an enhanced understanding of the vessel and its surroundings. The data is transmitted securely to a remote operating centre from where the captain controls the vessel. Lloyd’s Register supported the project, using its ShipRight procedure guidance to ensure the technologies were implemented safely.
Svitzer chief technology officer Kristian Brauner said: “Disruption through innovation is happening in almost every industry and sector and technology will also be transforming the maritime industry… Svitzer is actively engaging in projects that allow us to explore innovative ways to improve the safety and efficiency of towage operations to benefit our customers and our crews. We are proud to be partnering with Rolls-Royce in this high-level research and development of systems for remote operation.”
Rolls-Royce president – marine Mikael Makinen commented: “We have been saying for a couple of years that a remotely operated commercial vessel would be in operation by the end of the decade. Thanks to a unique combination of Svitzer’s operational knowledge and our technological expertise, we have made that vision a reality much sooner than we anticipated.”
Robert Allan developed an autonomous tug concept last year to attract interest from owners and accelerate innovation. It unveiled the RAmora tug conceptual design following an extensive research and development programme. The RAmora 2400 is designed primarily for ship assist and berthing operations with a bollard pull of 55 tonnes and hybrid propulsion that includes battery storage capacity.
The design includes technical features for remote operations including live 360° video, real-time electronic position-sensing and advanced real-time control interfaces for the operator. There is also onboard manoeuvring and positioning controls, equipment and workspace monitoring and safety management functionality.
The RAmora design incorporated Voith Schneider Propeller drives arranged in a fore/aft configuration for omni-directional manoeuvrability. It also had heavy-duty cylindrical fendering around the entire deck perimeter to allow RAmora to push from any point.
In a different development, Tuco Marine Group introduced remote controlled navigation systems for ProZero workboats. Tuco introduced designs for an autonomous tug, patrol vessel, ice-class workboat and a support vessel for remotely operated underwater vehicles. To enable the ProZero series unmanned operations, Tuco worked with Sea Machines to develop remote controlled navigations systems. These can be embedded into a wide variety of vessels in the ProZero series enabling the vessels to be operated remotely and be self-piloting. The autonomous control system and unmanned workboats provide the ability to perform repetitive and quantifiable marine tasks more reliably when compared to direct human control, to improve the quality of operations.
Robot tugs are coming – they could take over the world! This is an extreme Sci-Fi view, but as the Svitzer Hermod trial shows we are heading towards more remote controlled and autonomous operations. With some certainty, we can expect some remote-controlled tugs operating in ports worldwide in the near future.
It was interesting to see Svitzer Hermod’s captain was able to achieve these movements from the quayside in Copenhagen. He berthed the tug alongside the quay, undocked the vessel, turned it 360°, then piloted it to Svitzer’s headquarters, before docking it again. There was a crew on board during the demonstration to ensure safe operations in the event of a system failure. However, in future trials it is likely they will be removed as there is more certainty about the technology, particularly the tug-to-shore communications, advanced software and remote control console.
This demonstrates that disruption to daily tug operations will come through innovation and will reduce the need for putting humans in danger. The Danish Maritime Authority encouraged this innovative project. Its special technical advisor Erik Tvedt told me that it uses similar technology to what the Danish Navy has on an autonomous mine sweeper.
This is the beginning of an advance towards remote-control tugs that will encourage other operators to consider the technology – so perhaps we will see robot tugs in the future.