ABB and Keppel O&M have successfully carried out South Asia’s first remote joystick control of a tugboat in the Port of Singapore.
The test, carried out in April, represents a joint cooperation between the shipyard Keppel Offshore & Marine (Keppel O&M) and ABB.
“The Port of Singapore, with more than 130,000 vessels calling annually, presents one of the most complex settings for autonomous harbour operations in the world. The trial marks a major milestone in validating the increased safety and efficiency of tug operations utilising digital solutions already available today for nearly any kind of vessel,” ABB said in a statement.
ABB’s technology and Keppel O&M’s technology solutions were retrofitted on the 32-m harbour tugboat Maju 510. The vessel is owned and operated by Keppel O&M’s joint-venture company Keppel Smit Towage. The remote control station (pictured) was set up at the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore’s Maritime Innovation Lab. ABB’s remote control solution was based on its Ability Marine Pilot product family. ABB Ability Marine Pilot Vision provided the sensor fusion from onboard systems to generate a digital situational awareness, while ABB Ability Marine Pilot Control system executed the necessary intelligent manoeuvring and control commands.
“We are proud to have reached another milestone representing a significant step towards autonomous shipping, in close collaboration with Keppel,” said Juha Koskela, Division President, ABB Marine & Ports. “The intent of this technology is to relieve the crew of tasks that can be automated, enabling them to perform at their best during critical periods and enhancing the overall safety and productivity of marine operations. This trial also confirms the possibility for application of remote and autonomous technology to other vessel types.”
“Remote control navigation is an important feature of autonomous vessels as it acts as a safeguard and is especially useful in certain complicated scenarios. As the overall system integrator, Keppel O&M is leveraging its in-depth offshore and marine expertise and collaborating with the Keppel ecosystem of companies, such as M1 with its connectivity solutions, as well as other partners such as ABB who supplied leading-edge technology, to incorporate the best-in-class systems and offer customisable autonomous solutions. This is in line with Keppel’s Vision 2030, which includes harnessing advanced technologies for growth,” said Mr. Tan Leong Peng, Managing Director (New Builds), Keppel O&M.
At this stage it does not appear that the intention is to replace tug captains with remote operators completely, but to integrate automated and remote operations to control tugs as they transit around the port. “Performing the transit autonomously and under remote supervision would enable the onboard crew to rest and be alert when they are needed in the actual work of the tug. Station keeping with remote assistance may also provide opportunities for onboard crew to rest rather than performing routine tasks that can be managed as effectively or better by remote crew,” ABB said.
“Keppel Smit Towage is pleased to support Keppel O&M and ABB in the development of autonomous tugs. As a tug operator, we leverage technology to improve our operations to serve our customers better. With the Maju 510 as a pilot tug, we are able to experience and provide feedback on how autonomous operations can help the tug captain and crew in simplifying their navigation to focus on crucial tasks. This has the potential to significantly enhance operational safety and efficiency,” said Mr. Romi Kaushal, Managing Director of Keppel Smit Towage.
The harbour tug project is funded by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore as part of the Singapore Maritime R&D Roadmap 2030. The second phase of the project, scheduled for late 2021, will see the vessel perform autonomous collision avoidance tasks while under remote supervision.