FEATURE | EU partnership trials autonomous sailing systems for coastal and inland vessels
A collaboration that includes Norwegian technology company Kongsberg Maritime has successfully completed trial sailings of cargo vessels fitted with autonomous navigation systems.
The trials were conducted as part of the Autonomous Shipping Initiative for European Waters (AUTOSHIP) project, which aims to fast-track the wider adoption and operation of autonomous vessels in EU waters. The four-year project has received funding from the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program.
The objective of the AUTOSHIP project is to test and develop fully autonomous navigation systems, intelligent machinery systems, self-diagnostics, prognostics, and operation scheduling, as well as communication technology. All these will enable a prominent level of cybersecurity and integrating the vessels into upgraded e-infrastructure.
Two vessels were used for separate sailings in coastal and inland waters, respectively: the Norwegian-owned fish feed transport vessel Eidsvaag Pioner and the Belgian-flagged inland cargo vessel Zulu 04.
A new means of transporting fish feed
For Eidsvaag Pioner, the demonstration was carried out over 13 hours and involved the vessel completing a voyage outside the coast of Kristiansund on the northwest coast of Norway. The ship undocked from the port of Averøy, sailed to an offshore fish farm and back to port again, covering 160 nautical miles in total.
The demonstration was initiated, managed, and monitored by the crew from the Kongsberg remote operating centre (ROC) on land in Ålesund. It involved a mix of remote and autonomous operations during different stages of the voyage. For reasons of safety and current regulations, crewmembers have also been on board the ship during the test cruises.
The first part of the demonstration included automatic undocking from the quay at Averøy. The autonomous technology then took control to navigate and manoeuvre out of the harbour and further out to open sea. Here, the ship navigated a route between several islands and avoided other sea traffic, before arriving at the offshore fish farm Ocean Farm 1 owned by salmon harvesting company Salmar.
Various manoeuvres were then carried out using the dynamic positioning (DP) system. The vessel next returned to port, again navigating open sea and congested seaways before it automatically docked again. The entire operation was monitored and occasionally controlled remotely by the shore-based captain and engineer.
During the demonstration, a number of established and new Kongsberg technologies were deployed, and included auto-undocking and autodocking, a situational awareness system, an autonomous navigation system, an intelligent machinery system, a connectivity and cybersecurity system, an ROC, and DP. Cloud-based communication systems and advanced simulations were also involved to test and ensure that the vessel operated safely and optimally.
Inland navigation trials in Belgium
Europe’s inland waterways offer positive environmental impacts by using autonomous shipping technology. An autonomous barge can potentially take around 7,500 lorries off the roads each year and will result in reductions in both traffic congestion and emissions.
In a succeeding series of trials under the AUTOSHIP project, the inland cargo vessel Zulu 04 manoeuvred and navigated on unrestricted waterways, and it demonstrated berthing and unberthing capability. To achieve this, the vessel was upgraded with onboard control technology, while an onshore ROC provided support. As with Eidsvaag Pioner, safety crew was onboard the vessel during the test.
Zulu 04 completed a 16.5-kilometre circuit starting from a port in Niel on the Rupel River in Belgium. The vessel entered a busy sea canal before traversing locks and passing several bridges as well as a yacht club and marina.
Kongsberg technologies used in the trial included autodocking, autocrossing, and automatic navigation systems. The company has also developed cloud-based communications systems and advanced simulations to test and ensure that the vessel operated safely and optimally.
Under remote monitoring from the ROC, the team and vessel had to show situational awareness, engine and machinery monitoring, berthing/unberthing, and manoeuvring in port. The same tasks were demonstrated under autonomous control, as well as collision avoidance, grounding avoidance, transit sailing and automatic mooring. Zulu 04 also demonstrated the ability to switch between autonomous operation and remote controlled operation.
Kongsberg said the successful test of Zulu 04 barge verifies the maturity of key enabling technologies and helps build the real-world data required to assure regulators and customers of the safety and security of autonomous operations on European waterways.
Plans for future implementation
The use cases developed within the project will optimise efforts and investments in order to advance common standards and enabling operations in a shorter timeframe than expected. This will allow commercial applications of the technology behind the next generation of autonomous ships by the end of 2023.