Kongsberg, Automated Ships aim for unmanned operations
December 1, 2016
Norwegian-led project will see autonomous ships deployed and tested in Trondheim fjord
As InnovOil recently reported, the age of unmanned and autonomous ships is already upon us. With no technical limitations to speak of, the industry is simply waiting for regulation to catch up – not that this seems to be stopping a few of the bolder marine firms. Early November saw UK-based Automated Ships sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Norway's Kongsberg Maritime to build the Hrönn – an innovation the two have described as “the world’s first unmanned and fully-automated vessel for offshore operations.” The agreement will see Automated Ships contract the ship in January 2017 and act as project manager and ship-owner, while design and construction will be carried out in Norway in collaboration with shipyard Fjellstrand and Kongsberg. Given the nascent stage of regulation, certification body DNV GL and the Norwegian Maritime Authority (NMA) will then oversee sea trials in Norway's Trondheim fjord – a newly designated test bed for automated vessels and technologies. “Increased automation combined with remote monitoring and control is an inevitable trend and has the potential to create safer and more efficient transport and operations at sea. This may lead to unmanned ships, as in this case, and the technologies involved also have the potential to improve the safety and efficiency of manned ships in the form of increased decision support and operational assistance,” said DNV GL Maritime Research head, Bjørn Johan Vartdal. The announcement marks rapid progress for the industry. Having been announced in March 2016 as part of the Norwegian government’s National Transport Plan, the Trondheim testbed was inaugurated in September. It was chosen largely because of its low traffic, but also its proximity to several major academic and research organisations, including the Ocean Space Centre, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology's (NTNU) Center for Autonomous Operations and Services (AMOS) and the Norwegian Marine Technology Research Institute (MARINTEK).
Hrönn the go According to the developers, Hrönn will be a light-duty, offshore utility ship aimed at serving the energy, scientific and fish-farming industries. In addition to cargo delivery and general support, it will also be capable of ROV and AUV launch and recovery and suitable for use as a standby vessel. The design also allows for the potential outfitting of firefighting equipment, in support of manned firefighting ships. Kongsberg did not respond to a request for more information regarding the ship’s design and specifications. Initially, Hrönn will be piloted remotely – what Kongsberg terms Man-in-the-Loop Control mode – but will move towards full autonomy as algorithms are developed during these remote operations. Much of the automation is being tackled by Kongsberg, which will provide all systems for dynamic positioning (DPS) and navigation, satellite and position reference, marine automation and communication. The vessel control systems, including the company’s K-Pos dynamic positioning, K-Chief automation and K-Bridge ECDIS, will be replicated at an Onshore Control Centre, enabling remote operation. "The Hrönn is an incredible ship and a great example of Kongsberg's commitment to developing autonomous and unmanned vessels. We are involved in several major projects in this field including AUTOSEA, which focuses on integrated sensor technology and fusion, and automated collision avoidance systems,” added Kongsberg Maritime , EVP global sales & marketing spokesman Stene Førsund. Meanwhile, Automated Ships says it is in discussion with “several end-users” who it hopes will become early-adopters, and who will establish a base-rate for the cost of operations. The company’s managing director, Brett Phaneuf, stated: “The advantages of unmanned ships are manifold, but primarily centre on the safe guarding of life and reduction in the cost of production and operations; removing people from the hazardous environment of at-sea operations and re-employing them on-shore to monitor and operate robotic vessels remotely, along with the significantly decreased cost in constructing ships, will revolutionise the marine industry. Automated Ships Ltd will be at the forefront of that revolution, along with its many Norwegian partners.” Although sea trials of these vessels are perhaps are a year or two out, autonomous ships are about to make serious waves in the maritime industry. Although the project’s participants are keen for Hrönn to be the first fully autonomous ship to begin serving the industry, others are certain to follow in its wake.