ShipInsight witnesses fully autonomous’ ferry test

Paul Gunton
Paul Gunton
ShipInsight

04 December 2018


Rolls-Royce and FinFerries have demonstrated what they say is “the world’s first fully-autonomous ferry” between the Finnish ports of Parainen and Nauvo. It differs from the Wärtsilä/Norled system described by ShipInsight last week because it includes collision avoidance technology.

It follows an agreement in May between the two companies to collaborate on a research project called Safer Vessel with Autonomous Navigation (SVAN) that implemented findings from their earlier Advanced Autonomous Waterborne Applications research project, funded by Business Finland.

In a demonstration on 3 December – timed in part to coincide with the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee’s 100th meeting (MSC 100) – the 53.8m car ferry Falco used a combination of Rolls-Royce ship intelligence technologies to navigate autonomously during a voyage between Parainen and Nauvo, during which it avoided some pre-arranged interactions with other vessels before docking unaided. On its return journey, the vessel was controlled remotely from a simulator-style control room in FinFerries’ offices in nearby Turku.

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During an evening reception following the demonstration a video was shown that included film made by an aerial drone during the demonstration that showed the ship changing course as it approached one of the other vessels taking part in the exercise.

FinFerries' chief executive Mats Rosin underlined the system’s safety benefits, telling guests that FinFerries vessels conduct about 1.5M berthings every year and that since 80% of accidents are typically caused by human error, using a technology for some of the berthings would inevitably avoid some damage. But when asked whether FinFerries will retain and use the trial installation, Mr Rosin told ShipInsight that no decision had been made. “We have to evaluate what we are going to do, together with Rolls-Royce.”

Among the guests at the demonstration were shipowners and managers responsible for a diverse range of ship types and Oskar Levander, Rolls-Royce vice president for innovation, told ShipInsight that the company was in talks with shipowners of different ship types “and there is a clear interest in this technology coming from different ship sectors [and] some projects are already ongoing for cargo vessels.”

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A statement issued to mark the event said that it followed nearly 400 hours of sea trails since Rolls-Royce and FinFerries signed their agreement to cooperate on testing Rolls-Royce’s Autodocking system, which enables the vessel to alter course and speed automatically when approaching the quay, along with several hours of experience with its collision avoidance system.

ShipInsight watched the dockings from the ship’s foredeck and noted that Falco’s final approach at Nauvo was considerably slower than FinFerries’ electric hybrid ferry Elektra, which entered the harbour at the same time. By the time Falco had made contact with the berth, Elektra had already discharged its vehicles and loaded its departing cargo. For these short crossing, turnround time is critical and Mr Rosin told ShipInsight that, together with Rolls-Royce, “we will look at how to tune it for different environments”, taking account of parameters such as speed, wind and current.

However, he said that the speed had been kept deliberately low for the demonstration for safety reasons. Mikael Makinen, Rolls-Royce president of commercial marine, agreed. “I think it was much better today that we took it slowly with 100 people on board.” Another significant difference between the demonstration voyage and an in-service transit was that the double-ended ferry was equipped with sensors at one end only so the vessel was turned during each crossing so that it could dock automatically at each port.

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Before the demonstration began, Mr Makinen told ShipInsight that “this is very important for us. It is the first time you will see a totally autonomous ship with intelligence. It is a groundbreaking day and it is important that we can tell IMO that it works.” He was referring to a presentation that was to be made a few hours after the demonstration to MSC 100 by Kevin Daffey, Rolls-Royce Marine’s director of ship intelligence and engineering and technology, called Technology progression of maritime autonomous surface ships. “After this you will see a lot of [companies] looking into this more carefully,” Mr Makinen said.

In its statement, Rolls-Royce quoted him as saying that the demonstration “reaffirms exactly what we have been saying for several years, that autonomous shipping will happen.” He said that the SVAN project provided “an ideal opportunity to showcase to the world how ship intelligence technology can bring great benefits in the safe and efficient operation of ships.”

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The statement explained that Falco had been equipped with a range of advanced sensors – shown in the Rolls-Royce-supplied photo above – that allowed it to build a detailed picture of its surroundings, in real time “and with a level of accuracy beyond that of the human eye.” On board, this data is processed by equipment housed in a container mounted on Falco’s top deck while, for remote control operations, a situational awareness picture is created by relaying the sensors’ data and relaying it to FinFerries’ remote operating centre.