Oystein Longva, Vard Electro’s Vice President of Products, told AJOT at the Electric and Hybrid Marine Expo in Amsterdam on June 20th that: “We have a contract for 14 autonomous vessels that are going to be remotely controlled.”
Earlier this year, the Subsea survey and inspection company Ocean Infinity’s robotic fleet arrived with its first minimally-manned vessel at the Vard Søviknes yard in Norway.
Longva noted that “when you are talking about autonomy there are no Class rules in existence right now” that would legalize the operation of these vessels by Regulatory ‘Class’ organizations and Coast Guard authorities. Longva said that the process of systems integration on vessels has developed with enhanced electronics that have already paved the way for engine rooms on vessels that can be left unmanned at night using alarms warning of problems that crew members can attend to.
The VARD strategy is to gradually reduce the manning on vessels in cooperation with Class societies such as the Norway-based Det Norske Veritas (DNV): “We are working with DNV on the rules and regulations and so they are evolving now. What we are seeing on the vessels that we are now building is the Ocean Infinity vessels … are 78-meter-long vessels, fairly big vessels … What we want to do is to reduce the number of crew. These vessels are more like workboats and so they are going back and forth on repetitive routes. So, on the Ocean Infinity vessels, we are going to reduce the crew, one by one, to a proper level. For example, if the captain has finished his day, then he puts the ship into remote control, then he can go to sleep. He will still be on the vessel if anything happens … It is like the engine rooms, which you can leave unmanned when the crew goes to sleep at night.”
Eventually, Vard says, each ship will be controlled by a monitoring center on shore. Without an onboard crew, there will be a lower carbon footprint: each ship will operate with no hotel load, no plane flights to transport personnel.
“This represents a technological leap that is also the natural next step in our evolution based on long-established expertise in supply and integration of advanced SeaQ automated control systems for such areas as energy management, propulsion, bridge, and navigation on more than 300 vessels,” says Vard Electro’s CEO Andrea Qualizza.
Vard describes itself as “providing high-end design and engineering services to the global maritime industry, through our specialized VARD subsidiaries we create and develop an outstanding range of advanced power and automation systems, deck handling equipment, and vessel accommodation solutions.”
Samsung Tests Autonomous Navigation
At the same time, South Korean shipbuilder Samsung Heavy Industries (SHI) has successfully tested its autonomous navigation technology on board a 15,000 TEU container ship, according to a news report.
The autonomous voyage covered approximately 1,500 kilometers from Jeju Island, South Korea to Kaohsiung Port in Taiwan.
SHI equipped the vessel with its Autonomous Ship and Smart Ship Solution SVESSEL, a remote autonomous navigation system developed by the shipbuilder. The system integrates advanced autonomous navigation technologies, including AIS, radar, camera sensors, and sensor fusion to analyze and fuse the data collected.
Over the course of the voyage, the system identified more than 9,000 obstacles and generated routes that aligned with routes determined by experienced human navigators in over 90% of scenarios, according to a July 6th report in GCaptain.
Samsung Kongsberg Partnership
In March, Maritime Executive reported that SHI has brought in Kongsberg Maritime to work on the Korean shipbuilder's ongoing autonomous ship technology program, expanding on earlier in-house efforts to design self-navigating vessels.
The new joint project agreement is focused on developing a design for an autonomous LNG carrier with a capacity of 174,000 cubic meters, the industry-standard size. SHI will handle systems integration and overall design, while Kongsberg will serve as a "strategic partner" responsible for providing integrated solution designs.
Kongsberg has considerable experience in developing and fielding autonomous and remote navigation systems, including the technology behind the groundbreaking all-electric container feeder Yara Birkeland, which is currently undergoing testing in Norway.
“We will focus on technology development to ensure that autonomous ships become the optimal solution for shipping companies to reduce operating costs and operational risks,” said Jang Hae-ki, Director of Technology Development at SHI.
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