Rolls-Royce, Svitzer demonstrate first autonomous ship
July 26, 2017
World-first mission sees remote ship piloted around Copenhagen harbour
In mid-2016 InnovOil spoke with Rolls-Royce’s vice president of innovation for marine, Oskar Levander, about the future of autonomous shipping. Even then, his message was that the future is already here: “This is happening. It’s not if, it’s when.”
Little more than a year later, the engineering giant has proved its point. In late June, the company announced it had successfully demonstrated the world’s first remotely operated commercial vessel, in Copenhagen harbour.
According to reports, the 28m vessel, operated by towage firm Svitzer, was piloted from its berth at the quay side in the harbour, undocked, turned 360°, and sailed to the Svitzer HQ, before docking again. It did so while being controlled by the vessel’s captain, sitting in a remote station inside a base at Svitzer headquarters.
The 132 dwt Svitzer Hermod tug is based on a Robert Allan ship design, and was built in Turkey at the Sanmar yard in 2016. It is equipped with a Rolls-Royce dynamic positioning system (DPS), which is also the main link to the operating remote controlled system. In addition to its software and positioning, the vessel is equipped with a pair of Rolls-Royce MTU 16V4000 M63 diesel engines, each rated 2,000 kW at 1,800 rpm.
Remote operations are aided by a range of sensors across the vessel, which offer a number of different data inputs to help captains maintain an awareness of the vessel and its surroundings. The data are then transmitted securely to a so-called remote operating centre (ROC). According to Rolls-Royce, this itself has also been designed to give a new perspective on the way in which vessels are controlled. “Instead of copying existing wheelhouse design the ROC used input from experienced captains to place the different system components in the optimum place to give the master confidence and control. The aim is to create a future-proof standard for the control of vessels remotely,” the company said.
Svitzer, Rolls-Royce and other project partners were present to witness the operation. Rolls-Royce president for marine Mikael Makinen remarked: “We’ve 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.” Lloyd’s Register’s marine and offshore director, Nick Brown, explained the agency’s role in the project: “With autonomous ships likely to enter service soon, we have already set out the ‘how’ of marine autonomous operations in our ShipRight procedure guidance, as it is vital these technologies are implemented in a safe way and there is a route for compliance. Lack of prescriptive rules was no barrier for “de-risking” the project and we provided assurance against LR’s Cyber-Enabled Ships ShipRight Procedure, whilst considering the safety implications associated with the first closed demonstration.”
Rolls-Royce and Svitzer have also signed an agreement to continue their co-operation to further test remote – and eventually autonomous – operations for vessels. It marks the latest in series the company has made, another notable instance being a memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed with Cargotec to work together on autonomous systems for navigation and cargo on board container ships.
Last year, Oskar Levander concluded our interview by noting: “In the beginning there were a lot of sceptical voices, but during the last year everyone is talking about it. More people are sure that it is coming, more companies are working on it and more of our customers are coming to us and saying that they want it.” With a successful demonstration already completed, and more on the way, this interest can only be set to grow.