PNT Roundup: Remote and autonomous ships coming to high seas

August 1, 2016  - By

Remote and Autonomous Ships

Coming Soon to the High Seas Near You

Image courtesy of Rolls-Royce.

The Advanced Autonomous Waterborne Applications Initiative (AAWA) published a white paper in June as part of presentations at the Autonomous Ship Technology Symposium 2016 in Amsterdam. The white paper outlines the Project’s vision of how remote and autonomous shipping will become a reality.

Oskar Levander, Rolls-Royce vice president of Innovation – Marine, said, “This is happening. It’s not if, it’s when. The technologies needed to make remote and autonomous ships a reality exist. The AAWA project is testing sensor arrays in a range of operating and climatic conditions in Finland and has created a simulated autonomous ship control system which allows the behaviour of the complete communication system to be explored. We will see a remote controlled ship in commercial use by the end of the decade.”

The AAWA white paper explores the research carried out to date on the business case for autonomous applications, the safety and security implications of designing and operating remotely operated ships, the legal and regulatory dimensions and the existence and readiness of a supplier network to deliver commercially applicable products in the short to medium term.

Positioning Technologies. The proposed system draws on a range of sensors (see Figure 1) including GPS, inertial, lidar, cameras, short-range radars, and electronic charts. “When combined witha global or local positioning reference such as GNSS, and with wind sensors and inertial measurement units, the ship is able to keep its position even in rough weather conditions,” states the report. “The main question is therefore not whether the implementation of autonomous ship navigation is technically possible, but what is the combination of technologies and methods that provides the level of performance and reliability that is required for practical operation of large vessels, and at a reasonable cost.”

The white paper draws on a wide range of expertise from academic researchers at some of Finland’s leading universities. Industry input has been provided by leading members of the maritime cluster including Rolls-Royce, Brighthouse NAPA, Deltamarin, DNV GL and Inmarsat.

The project also has the support of shipowners and operators. The tests of sensor arrays are being carried out aboard Finferries 65-metrer double ended ferry, the Stella, which operates between Korpo and Houtskär. ESL Shipping Ltd is helping explore the implications of remote and autonomous ships for the short sea cargo sector.

Iran Reiterates Loran Effort

Researchers at Iran’s Malek-Ashtar University have developed a 1-megawatt transmitter with half-cycle technology for a national project announced as a replacement for GPS, which is currently employed for all positioning, navigation and timing services across the country. Given the lack of control on the GPS’s accuracy and quality and a possible outage of the system in critical conditions, the country’s defense ministry has set out to develop a local positioning system (LPS) for positioning and timing.

Experts at the U.S.-based Resilient PNT Foundation say the description of the system make it appear to be a variant of Loran, probably similar to those operated in Russia and China. If it is such a Loran variant and if it complies with international standards, it should complement Saudi Arabia’s Loran signals in the Persian Gulf, they said.

Iran will establish five stations with powerful transmitters in appropriate locations to provide navigation, positioning and timing services in compliance with international standards, according to the country’s defense minister.

Iran made a similar announcement about a land-based navigation system in December 2013. The country’s military experts and technicians have reportedly logged significant progress in manufacturing a broad range of indigenous equipment.

U.S. eLoran August demonstration

The Wildwood, New Jersey, eLoran transmitter will continuously broadcast from July 29 through 12 p.m. Eastern time on Aug.15. Wildwood will broadcast as 8970 Master and Secondary most of the time but occasionally may operate at other rates.

About the Author: Alan Cameron

Alan Cameron is the former editor-at-large of GPS World magazine.