RH Marine to research autonomous operations

Paul Gunton
Paul Gunton

06 November 2018

Netherlands-based RH Marine has announced a new research project to develop algorithms enabling unmanned vessels to operate safely by learning how to recognise and avoid danger situations.

The research is part of the larger European project Safer Autonomous Systems (SAS) under the direction of the KU Leuven (BE), in which the safety of various autonomous systems is being researched. A consortium of companies is participating in the project, including MIRA, Bosch, Airbus, Jaguar and Lloyd’s Register. RH Marine, together with the Dutch maritime research institute MARIN, is focused on the safety of unmanned self-propelled vessels. The project is funded by the EU Horizon 2020 program, which couples and stimulates research and innovation.

The major aim of the SAS project is to establish confidence in the safety of autonomous systems. For this objective, RH Marine’s will develop three different algorithms. The first is to optimise the way from A to B for autonomous vessels, so that they sail as efficiently as possible at the lowest possible cost. This algorithm must be able to operate an entire fleet. In addition, the research must lead to an algorithm that, based on the data from sensors, can develop a complete situational awareness, which can assess actual situations and learn to recognise hazards. The third algorithm must avoid those hazards.

A PhD student is to be appointed for a three year term to work on the three algorithms together with the RH Marine development team. The researcher’s job includes short internships at KU Leuven, MARIN and Lloyd’s Register.

RH Marine is a leading integrator of electrical and automation systems in many maritime sectors. ”We have been approached for this project because of this experience and our expertise in the field of innovation,” said Portfolio Manager Marcel Vermeulen of RH Marine. ,”We are already developing complex systems for naval, dredging, offshore and super yacht sector. Our future goal is to enable our customer’s vessels to sail autonomously. By participating in SAS, we can make significant strides in that ambition. Lloyd’s participation in the consortium is important because all kinds of regulations will have to be adapted for autonomous sailing. That too is being surveyed,” explained Vermeulen.

The situational awareness aspect of autonomous ship operation is an important issue that needs to be resolved. “Eventually, the ship has to decide for itself what it will do in difficult situations. Sometimes, besides following all the rules, good seamanship is decisive. Thus, with Artificial Intelligence-technology we have to develop an algorithm that operates smarter but recognisable for humans,” said Vermeulen