Company proclaims a “huge step forward” for autonomous shipping
Wärtsilä has successfully completed a further round of test procedures of its automated dock-to-dock solution. “In an unprecedented operation, in the presence of the Norwegian Maritime Authority (NMA), the system was further tested on the ferry ‘Folgefonn’, this time for full dock-to-dock capability, with the autonomous operation being utilised uninterrupted for the entire route, visiting all three ports serviced by the ship,” Wärtsilä annouced.
“This represents a huge step forward in validating automated shipping solutions, and an important progression within our Smart Marine programme,” said Joonas Makkonen, Vice President, Voyage Solutions, Wärtsilä.
Plenty of companies are developing autonomous vessel systems, but Wärtsilä claims its latest test breaks new ground. “Once the operator selected the next destination berth, the operation was started by simply selecting “Sail”, which authorises the autonomous controller to take control of the vessel. The ferry was able to leave the dock, manoeuvre out of the harbour, sail to the next port of call, manoeuvre through the harbour entrance, and dock alongside the terminal – all without human intervention. It is believed to be the first ever attempt at fully automated dock-to-dock operation, in complete hands-off mode, for a vessel of this size”.
A series of tracks and waypoints are used to guide the ship, with an autonomous controller, which is based on Wärtsilä’s existing Dynamic Positioning system, managing speed and heading. GNSS is used as the primary sensor, while a Wärtsilä Guidance Marine CyScan AS is being tested as a secondary position sensor for the approach to the berth.
“We were on site for three days as witnesses to these tests; the first full scale demonstration towards an autonomous operation of a vessel that we have seen. It was, to say the least, very impressive. There is no doubt that such technology can eventually increase the safety and overall efficiency of the docking and undocking operations for ships. Of course, further development work is still ongoing, but I am impressed by how stable the system already is at this stage,” said Nils Haktor Bua, Project Manager at NMA.
The 85 metres long ‘Folgefonn’ is owned by Norwegian ferry operator Norled. It was used for the initial testing of the Wärtsilä autodocking solution in early 2018, and is also equipped with Wärtsilä’s inductive battery charging solution and energy storage systems for its hybrid propulsion system.
“We are pleased to cooperate with Wärtsilä in this exciting project. A fully autonomous dock-to-dock solution will provide us with considerable value-adding benefits in terms of better efficiency, greater safety, lower fuel consumption and, therefore, reduced exhaust emissions. We see the Wärtsilä solution as being a key support to the crew, enabling them to operate the vessel as effectively as possible,” added Sigbjørn Myrvang, Technical Manager at Norled.
Innovation Norway, an investment fund, has provided grants to both Wärtsilä and Norled for the testing of the auto-docking technology.