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Navigation and autonomy: The biggest stories of 2019 [Part 2]

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In this article we follow on from a previously published article, and round up on the biggest stories on navigation and autonomy in 2019 to date.

The first 6 months of 2019 have been a busy time for innovation and digital in the maritime sector.

From trials and reports, to strategies and acquisitions, there has been a sizable shift with respect to navigation and autonomy in the maritime sector.

To put it into perspective, we’ve put together a list of the some of 2019’s top stories in new tech and the digital ship of the future to date.

Please note, the stories below do not appear in any order of importance, but in a (loosely) chronological order.

Wilhelmsen and Airbus complete drone delivery pilot

Wilhelmsen and Airbus delivered a small cargo of items to working vessels at anchorage via drone technology as part of a drone pilot project in Singapore.

The Airbus Skyways drone navigated autonomously along a 1.5km pre-determined flight path before depositing its 1.5kg cargo and returning to its base. The entire delivery took just ten minutes.

The ongoing pilot trial will focus on offshore supply vessels at anchorage 1.5km from the pier with the flight range will be gradually extended to as far as 3km from the shore.

The trial which started in late November 2018 is being facilitated by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore. The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore has also working with Wilhelmsen and Airbus to ensure safety of the trials.

Marius Johansen, VP commercial, Wilhelmsen Ships Agency, commented on the success of the trial: "The now proven, seamless operation of drone deliveries from shore-to-ship, in one of the world's busiest ports, proves the hard work, investment and faith we, and indeed our partners, placed in the Agency by Air drone delivery project over the past two years was not misplaced."

Prior to this trial, drone deliveries from shore-to-ship of this range had not been completed. Deliveries via drone have the potential to reduce delivery costs and have a smaller carbon footprint than launch boats.

DNV GL looks to Asia

DNV GL opens an AI research centre in Shanghai and is appointed lead researcher on feasibility of additive manufacturing (AM) on Singapore-based program.

With an aim to develop new solutions based on artificial intelligence (AI) technology and expand its audit, inspection and survey services, DNV GL opened an AI research centre in Shanghai, China.

Remi Eriksen, group president and CEO of DNV GL noted that the company would direct 5% of their global revenue to the establishment of the research centre. The Shanghai research centre is headed by Michael Chen and DNV GL hope the centre will grow up to eight staff by the end of 2019.

Dr. Pierre C Sames, group technology and research director at DNV GL, said, "Establishing a dedicated AI research centre in Shanghai enables us to engage with and benefit from leading edge AI technology developments. We also look to close cooperation with leading Chinese companies willing to implement advanced services based on AI."

DNV GL opened their first office in Xiamen in 1888. The opening of the research centre strengthens the DNV GL's relationship with the country, but also recognises China’s position as a world leader in the technology.

A few weeks after the opening of the research centre, DNV GL announced it had been appointed the lead researcher of the first phase of a new Singapore-based program. The Joint Industry Program (JIP) was initiated by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) to study the feasibility of AM (3D printing) in the maritime industry.

Outside of complex supply chains and accompanying logistics costs, the challenges of marine parts inventory include not only inventory costs, low utilisation rates and parts obsolescence. AM technology has the potential to revolutionise the way marine spare parts are designed, manufactured, and distributed to end users. The program hopes to encourage more maritime players to adopt AM to cut costs, reduce downtime, and optimise their spare parts supply.

No doubt the program will also strengthen Singapore’s port services value proposition as on-site manufacturing for maintenance becomes an important application of AM.

In 2015, Singapore saw the start-up of a National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Cluster (NAMIC) to speed up industrial adoption of AM. As a part of Singapore’s Sea Transport Industry Transformation Map to grow the maritime sector's value-add by $4.5 billion and create more than 5 000 highly qualified jobs by 2025, AM will be an important enabling technology for innovation and productivity improvements in the maritime sector.

Kongsberg completes Rolls-Royce marine acquisition

In April, Kongsberg Maritime parent company Kongsberg Gruppen (Kongsberg) completed its acquisition of Rolls-Royce Commercial Marine (RRCM).

Following European Commission approval, the acquisition will enable Kongsberg Maritime to expand its global presence and customer proximity. It will allow for Kongsberg to deliver more sustainable, safe and secure marine operations for all vessel types through technology including automation, navigation and control systems.

Additionally, RRCM's expertise will strengthen Kongsberg’s leadership in maritime digitalisation, ship intelligence and enabling technologies for autonomous vessels.

The acquisition will result in Kongsberg being represented in 40 countries, with more than 11 000 employees and will allow Kongsberg to assist more than 30 000 vessels worldwide. RRCM will operate under the Kongsberg brand and the Kongsberg Maritime legal entity.

While Rolls-Royce's Bergen Engines will be produced under Rolls-Royce's Power Systems business and remain with the Rolls-Royce brand name, Kongsberg will have access to Bergen Engines product through a trading arrangement.

Net proceeds after transaction costs and other adjustments are estimated to be between £350-400m.

Tripartite MoU to develop ocean-going autonomous navigation system

During Singapore Maritime Week in April earlier this year, Lloyd’s Register (LR) announced a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with ST Engineering Electronics (STEE), and Mitsui & Co. (Mitsui) to develop an ocean-going autonomous navigation system.

The initiative, funded by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA), is aimed at developing capabilities in autonomous navigation systems and exploring ways of improving efficiency and safety using autonomous systems.

The project is set to be the 'World's Largest Ocean-Going Autonomous Vessel Programme.'

Andy McKeran, LR commercial director Marine & Offshore, said, "LR's involvement in this project builds on the capability and experience already gained from our partnership in other industry-leading and world first autonomous projects."

"However, this project, a world first for the deployment of autonomous navigational technology to an ocean-going vessel for commercial operations, pushes the boundaries of autonomous technology and moves the industry towards deployment of autonomous navigation systems on-board vessels for enhanced performance and critically, safety," explained McKeran.

"Increasing interest in maritime autonomy and remote access/control technologies is a specific example of larger technological changes we are currently seeing in the maritime industry. Essential to the successful and safe adoption of these technologies is that robust use cases are established, for example to improve navigational safety, supply chain efficiency or operational costs of marine assets. Autonomous systems will also provide opportunities for skilled seafarers to focus on what they do best, and the safe and sustainable integration of autonomous systems relies on the appropriate engagement with seafaring professionals."

McKeran continued, "Working with STEE, who have already developed and proven this capability and are now looking to work to scale in the commercial marine market, is what sets this project apart; STEE provide world-class technical expertise, technology and advanced learnings on autonomous systems in the marine environment. We will support with expertise on assurance, certification and regulation for the application of autonomy in the maritime environment as well as approval of systems where appropriate."

Wärtsilä acquires SES and ships auto-docking technology

In May, Wärtsilä acquired Ships Electronic Services (SES), a UK-based company specialising in navigation and communication electronics, installation, maintenance and repair services.

SES, established in 1974, holds a strong local UK presence across the local marine service market, together with its wholly-owned subsidiary Greenham Regis.

SES is largely aimed at commercial and leisure vessels with 47 staff and a turnover of approximately £10m. The enterprise value of the transaction is £3.2 million.

Speaking on the acquisition, Tamara de Gruyter, Wärtsilä Marine's vice president for Europe and Africa Area said, "Wärtsilä has a long history in providing electrical and automation services in the UK. The acquisition strengthens our in-house service competences and local coverage. We are able to support our customers even better with a full range of electrical, automation, navigation and communication services."

Approximately a month later, Wärtsilä secured the first order for their auto-docking technology after successful sea trials on-board the 'Folgefonn' - owned by Norwegian operator Norled.

The testing included operating the automatic 180-degree rotational turn of the vessel, as well as Wärtsilä Guidance Marine’s CyScan AS with GeoLock technology, a cybersecurity enhancing secondary position sensor, which enables the approach to the berth to continue even if the GPS signal is lost.

Inge Andre Utåker, Regional director for Norled, noted, "We continue to be impressed with the Wärtsilä SmartDock system, which is unique in that it works hand-in-hand with the Captain to ensure the best performance on every docking, every day. It’s the perfect collaboration between an experienced crew and technology."

SmartDock is the first commercially available auto-docking solution. According to Wärtsilä, the SmartDock system reduces the risk of human error and improves safety and efficiency by automating the docking procedure and eliminating the need for ship officers to perform technical manoeuvres multiple times a day.

"The SmartDock solution is the culmination of decades of extensive research and testing by Wärtsilä in automation technology. Our system draws on similar automation and positioning technology used by oil rig support vessels to maintain proximity to the rig in the toughest sea environments. This gives us absolute confidence in SmartDock’s ability to meet the urgent commercial need to provide the safest possible docking for commuter ferries," said Joonas Makkonen, vice president, Voyage Solutions, Wärtsilä.

Sea Machines and Hike Metal test autonomous system for SAR

Sea Machines Robotics announced a new partnership with Hike Metal that would see their autonomous vessel control system aboard commercial vessels tasked with search-and-rescue (SAR) missions.

The integration of the Sea Machines' SM300 autonomous vessel control system aboard SAR work-boats will help develop and demonstrate the capabilities of autonomous marine technology for the purposes of increasing the productivity and safety.

The installation of the SM300 adds the following new capabilities to Hike Metal's vessels:

  • Autonomous SAR capability,
  • Data-driven waypoint following and mission planning,
  • Collaborative vessel operations,
  • Remote vessel and payload control,
  • Minimally manned and unmanned configurations, and
  • Obstacle avoidance.

Sea Machines also enables minimally manned and unmanned autonomous operations. This allows operators to respond to rescue events anytime of the day or night, even when crews are unavailable or restricted.

Phase I demonstrations of this functionality will begin this year, with tests taking place on-board a new-build, 27-foot Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat (RHIB).

"Response times are critical in the success of search-and-rescue missions, due to the limited survival time of victims who fall overboard and inherent risks to rescuers," said Sea Machines' Don Black, vice president, sales and marketing. "Our technologies installed aboard responding vessels reduce response times and increase productivity of on-water search operations, improving safety for all involved. We are thrilled to partner with Hike Metal on such an important prototype that will help to modernize marine responses, save lives and recover critical property faster."

"We have seen the need to increase response capabilities and also reduce the risk to first responders. We feel this technology and platform will be a valuable tool to all Coast Guard Societies around the world," said Hike Metal's Roger Stanton, senior project manager. "We are very excited to be working with Sea Machines, a leader in autonomous technology for the marine environment."

It is also worth noting that Sea Machines is developing advanced perception and navigation assistance technology for a range of vessel types, including container ships. The company is currently testing this technology aboard one of A.P. Moller-Maersk's new-build ice-class container ships.

ABB opens Marine Service Centre in Russia

ABB has opened a new marine service centre in Murmansk, Russia, to support the company's ship power, propulsion and automation technologies.

The new centre occupies 2 000m2 in a purpose-built facility with its offices, electrical and mechanical testing areas, and a workshop served by overhead gantry cranes - allowing ABB to expand service capabilities for ice-going vessels. According to ABB, the centre also features a warehouse for Azipod propulsion and electrical spare parts to ensure shortest delivery times.

The new centre is also going to provide Russian language support to owners within the worldwide ABB Ability Collaborative Operations Centres network.

"With an initial staff of 20, including 12 local field engineers, the new Marine Centre is well positioned to accommodate the needs of our growing customer base, alongside an additional pool of service engineers on the island of Sakhalin in Russia's Far East," said Sergey Shevchuk, local business manager, ABB Marine & Ports Russia.

Seven global Collaborative Operations Centres connect into shipboard sensors to monitor the equipment onboard and support remote preventive and predictive maintenance.

In 2009, ABB's engineers operating from smaller scale service facilities in Murmansk supported 15 vessels featuring the group's equipment; in 2019, the number of ships has exceeded 50, with projects covering over 100 Azipod propulsion units. The new centre has been developed in response to a growing customer base.

Autonomous shipping alliance welcomes three new members

One Sea is an industry alliance that brings together exponents of autonomous ship technology. The primary aim of the alliance is to lead the way towards an operating autonomous maritime ecosystem by 2025. The Finnish collaboration gathers together leading marine experts and is a strategic combination of top research, state-of-the-art information technology and business.

Inmarsat and NYK Group research subsidiary MTI (Monohakobi Technology Institute) have joined One Sea as full members, while the Royal Institution of Naval Architects (RINA) has signed a Memorandum of Understanding to become a One Sea associate member.

One Sea members ABB, Kongsberg Maritime and Wärtsilä ran separate autonomous ship trials off the Finnish and Norwegian coasts at the end of 2018. Finnish regulators have authorised One Sea to oversee future trials in Jaakonmeri off western Finland - the first dedicated test zone worldwide.

"We are delighted to welcome the largest global provider of ship-to-shore connectivity, the R&D arm of one of the largest shipowners in the world and the industry's leading professional body for naval architects as members," said Päivi Haikkola, One Sea Lead.

"Members have complete freedom to innovate and develop their own cost-efficient autonomous ship solutions inside an alliance which is nonetheless committed to harmonising technical standards," said Ms Haikkola. "Our expectation is that, as member numbers grow, operating solutions will multiply but members will also work towards integration." The new members would bring different perspectives and insights to the One Sea ecosystem, she added.

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