Unmanned Ships – Remote Controlled or Autonomous Ships in 2018 and later

The regulatory authority for shipping, the UN’s International Maritime Organisation (IMO). IMO is considering changing the “International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea” (SOLAS) to allow the operation of unmanned, autonomous vessels on International waters and began discussions in June 2017.

Rolls Royce – “Advanced Autonomous Waterborne Applications Initiative” (AAWA).
“This is happening. It’s not if, it’s when. The technologies needed to make remote and autonomous ships a reality exist. We will see a remote controlled ship in commercial use by the end of the decade.” – Oskar Levander, Rolls-Royce’s VP of Marine Innovation.

Rolls Royce and Google have announced a collaboration programme to advance knowledge in and application of robust intelligent awareness systems for existing and future ships.

The Japanese government is supporting an initiative by a consortium of Japanese shipping companies by backing research into data transmission and autonomous vessels. The consortium hope to develop and launch a fleet of “remote-control” cargo ships by 2025

The European Union (EU) has it’s Maritime Unmanned Navigation through Intelligence in Networks, (MUNIN) project.

In the USA, DARPA is testing the “Sea Hunter” a 132ft autonomous diesel-engined submarine designed for operation for months without human control or crew on board.

The fertilizer and distribution company Yara International will launch the world’s the first autonomous ship in 2018. The ship, the “Yara Birkland” is designed by Marin Teknikk, in collaboration with the Scandinavian marine automation company, Kongsberg. The Norwegian government enterprise ENOVA has given a grant of NOK 133.6 million towards ship development and construction. The 80 metre, electrically propelled, 120 TEU vessel will sail within Norwegian coastal limits between Herøya and Brevik and between Herøya and Larvik carrying fertilizer and chemicals. Envisaged to enter a crewed service in 2019 the ship will start remote operation later in the year and be fully autonomous by 2020. A 6 metre, 2.4 ton scale model is under test at Sintef Ocean in Trondheim. (Tank testing commenced 28th September 2017, CLICK HERE  to view the initial day in the tank).

Root Cause Analysis – How do you tackle your machinery and equipment failures?

How do you tackle your machinery and equipment failures?

Using Root Cause Analysis is a systematic methodology to investigate and deal with the causes of reliability and maintenance problems.

Root cause analysis should be carried out on chronic problems and failures that become worse over time.

Gathering information, analysing and rectifying the problem.

  • What happened?
  • Why did it happen? – Understand the problem and it’s potential causes.
  • What can be done to prevent the problem re-occurring?

Tools (In alphabetical order)

  • Equipment inspections
  • Fluid monitoring
  • Lubrication monitoring
  • Metallurgical analysis
  • Operational data
    Temperature monitoring
  • Thermography
  • Ultrasonic analysis
  • Vibration analysis

In any Root Cause Analysis you must use the all the tools at your disposal and follow the EVIDENCE without assuming anything in your investigation. The basic requirement is to interpret the data logically and without pre-determined bias. It helps if you can bring multiple disciplines and different areas of expertise to the problem.

As a footnote.
Equipment reliability tends to follow the Pareto principle – 20% of equipment problems account for 80% of the failures. Identifying this “low hanging fruit” and correcting the most critical 20% will give the most immediate results.

Unmanned ships – Securing the communications link.

Unmanned ships – Securing the communications link.

One of the important building blocks of any unmanned ship control system is the communications link between a shore-based control station and the ship’s on-board computer systems.

General Purpose programming languages such as C or C++ have a number of security holes that can be exploited by malicious hackers. There is an important requirement to isolate the communication link between a shore-based control station and the ship’s control computers.

One possible solution being developed to protect the link from outside intrusion could be based on the US DARPA “High-Assurance Cyber Military System” if and when a commercial version becomes available.
For more information, please visit the US NextGov website – Pentagon on Path to Launch Hacker-Proof Boeing Drone by 2018.

Unmanned Ships – What will it cost the shipowner to implement?

Unmanned Ships. Could safe navigation and reliability be achieved at an economic initial and operational through-life cost to the ship owner?

Have advances in automation, artificial intelligence (AI), communication bandwidth management and related fields made this revolutionary leap possible?

Consider the following:-

(1). The economic case.
We have a large body of knowledge of both initial and through-life costs for all currently manned ship types. These costs would be the starting point along with costs listed in (3), (4), (5) and (6) along with the increased cost of insuring the ship, cargo and 3rd parties when deciding to go ahead with an unmanned ship. The obvious savings are in crew costs. However, savings may not be as much as anticipated as you move oversight, control, maintenance and repair to shore-based locations.

These commercial costs may be relaxed if early attempts are subsidised by governments or large corporations with deep pockets and an eye on the future.

(2). First adopters.
Operators of certain ship types in a particular trade on a regular limited voyage will be the first to attempt unmanned operation if it can be evidenced that unmanned operation could be an economic proposition.

(3). Safety of Life at Sea.
Does an unmanned ship have any part in the rescue of people in a distress situation? Can an unmanned ship render assistance? Will current SOLAS arrangements be relaxed to accommodate ships unable to actually render on-the-scene physical assistance?

Manned ships provide on scene assistance. Unmanned ships cannot provide physical assistance. Therefore, should the operators of unmanned ships pay a “safety tax” in order to provide an equal coverage for alternative rescue arrangements.

It should be noted that no real attention has been paid to SOLAS or for funding of additional alternative rescue arrangements.

(4). Approval and inspection.
Unmanned ship design, construction and operation should be subject to inspection by a regulatory, independent third party. Who picks up the cost?

(5). Maintenance and repair.
No system is 100% reliable. I make the assumption that like dynamic positioning systems, dual and preferably triple redundancy systems will be installed and in operation.

(6). Oversight and control.
If the ship’s unmanned machinery, navigation and the communications links are made reliable, how much of the navigation and operational elements could be taken over by artificial intelligence and how much will be reliant on real-time shore-based oversight and control?

Which organisations are researching or are involved in the evolution of the unmanned ship?

Project MUNIN – Maritime Unmanned Navigation through Intelligence in Networks. (With eight associated organisations).
Project Munin was funded by the EU and hosted a public workshop at the Nor-Shipping trade fair in Norway on 3rd Jun 2015 and the MUNIN FINAL event in Hamburg on 10th and 11th June 2015. Their website has the details.

SARUMS Network (Safety and Regulations for Unmanned Maritime Systems) consisting of:-
ASV UK | Belgian Navy | Blue Bear UK | Bluefin Robotics USA | BMT UK | Bundeswehr Germany | DCNS France | DGA France | DMO Netherlands | DNV GL Germany | EDA | Finnish Navy | FMV Sweden | Frazier-Nash Consultancy UK | Fraunhofer-Institut Germany | International Bar Association – Maritime and Transport Law Committee | Italian navy | Liquid Robotics USA | National Oceanography Centre UK | NATO Seaway Mobility team | OCCAR | Porto University Portugal | QINETIQ UK | Saab Sweden | Seaspeed UK | SIREHNA France | TKMS Sweden | Trier University – Law Facility Germany | US Coastguard | US Navy.

Rolls Royce,
MIT Cambridge MA USA (MOOS-IvP project).
Oxford U Mobile Robotics Group UK.
Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim Norway.

Other organisations are keeping a watching brief along with IMO, ILO and at a governmental department level.

The US Navy have an unmanned class of small minesweeper.  The class is designed to operate for up to 48 hours. However, they do not leave the control of a Littoral Combat Vessel acting as a ‘mother hen’. The US Navy, of course, use different criteria as to the requirement for an unmanned vessel.

In conclusion, no one has come out with a definitive, reliable economic, measurable and costed argument for the adoption of an unmanned ship. Expressions such as ‘vision’, ‘prototype’ and ‘proposed’ abound. Will someone give absolute figures by way money saved and equal or improved SOLAS?

Until these figures are available why would you do it?