Third autonomous ferry trial as ABB joins the club

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

05 December 2018

Technology group ABB has become the third organisation to announced it has trialled of autonomous vessels with the release of details of tests carried out at the end of November in Helsinki.

The ABB announcements comes after similar tests by Wärtsilä and Rolls-Royce in recent days.

In the ABB trial, the ice-class passenger ferry Suomenlinna II owned by Helsinki City Transport was remotely piloted through test area near Helsinki harbour, proving that human oversight of vessels from anywhere is achievable with today’s technologies. Suomenlinna II was retrofitted last year with ABB’s new dynamic positioning system, ABB Ability Marine Pilot Control, and steered from a control centre in Helsinki. In the remote trial, which ABB claims is the world’s first for an existing passenger ferry, ABB successfully tested the enhancement of ship operations with technologies that are already available for nearly any kind of vessel.

Abb Control

The trial took place during the vessel’s off hours, away from shore with no passengers aboard, in an area free of other vessels. While it is now equipped with the new dynamic positioning system, the vessel will continue to operate via a set of conventional onboard controls, with the remote mode deployed during the trial only. Research and development will continue with the ferry and her crew.

“We are excited about the potential impact of this test on the future of the maritime industry,” said Peter Terwiesch, the President of ABB’s Industrial Automation division. “Advanced automation solutions from ABB are making the previously impossible possible for a wide range of sectors, including shipping, which is actively searching for technologies that can rapidly deliver more efficiency and better safety.”

“Autonomous does not mean unmanned. As vessels become more electric, digital and connected than ever before, ABB is able to equip seafarers with existing solutions that augment their skillsets. In this way, we are enhancing the overall safety of marine operations,” said Juha Koskela, Managing Director at ABB’s Marine & Ports unit.

Speaking after the voyage, Captain Lasse Heinonen who piloted the vessel during the trials said: “The progress we have made with the remote trial has been remarkable. I believe we are on the right track to exploring further possibilities of this technology as we move forward.”