Cooperative Vessel Operations enabled through autonomous systems

Cooperative Vessel Operations enabled through autonomous systems

Research and development being undertaken towards autonomous shipping operations has been a focal point of the maritime community in recent years, accelerating our understanding of what to expect from autonomous vessels.

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Discussions have often focused on technological challenges, but now that pilot projects are being rolled out, attention needs to shift towards identifying commercially viable and scalable applications for autonomous technology. This article addresses use cases for different types of Cooperative Vessel Operations that harness varying levels of autonomy.

Studies have shown that a single-minded focus on reducing OPEX by lowering manning does not create a solid business case for autonomous operations. Instead, the value benefit lies in creating predictable and safe services for the crew to use. Collaborative Vessel Operations uses machines to record and analyze the detailed behavior of all surrounding vessels. The assessment of the surrounding traffic enhances the predictability of operations. This in turn allows for a higher level of planning, improving the productivity of vessels and infrastructure, while reducing waiting times and lowering the risk for mistakes.

If we consider the escalation scale for collision avoidance (colored bar below shows the progression of situational severity from left to right), human navigators mostly act in the first three zones from green to yellow, depending on the predictability of the surrounding vessels. Ideally, vessel operations should always be in the green zones, and never escalate into crisis management. However, occasionally, and often related to human error, the situation does escalate into the red zone. More predictable information, as well as the elimination of human error in navigations, will move the task operations safely into the green zone “avoidance of encounters” with occasional “planning of a base avoidance” zone. The autonomous systems will, however, be effective in all task ranges in order to fulfill safety and class requirements. 

Escalation scale for collision avoidance
Escalation scale for collision avoidance

The main applications of Collaborative Vessel Operations are divided into three categories: swarming vessels, platooning and floating object transport cooperation (FOTC). Each of these will be explored in the article through a naval escort scenario, an ice convoy and a multi-tug operation scenario. To get the full picture, dowload the whole article here.

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