Friday, July 8, 2016

Autonomous Ships Become a Reality as Logistics Goes Automatic - But Safety Remains Essential

Driverless Trucks, Pilotless Planes Now Vessels Set to Sail Uncontrolled by Human Hand
Shipping News Feature
WORLDWIDE – Autonomy is the new buzzword of logistics technology buffs and after recent European driverless truck convoys and commonplace control of aircraft without necessary human intervention we have autonomous ships becoming a reality and likely to enter service soon. Now classification society Lloyd’s Register (LR) has set out the ‘how’ of marine autonomous operations in a new ShipRight procedure guidance. The guidance describes autonomy levels (AL) ranging from 'AL 1' through to 'AL 6' denoting a fully autonomous vessel with no access required during a mission.

The 'AL' system of levels provides clarity to designers, shipbuilders, equipment manufacturers, ship owners and operators, enabling accurate specification of the desired level of autonomy in design and operations and paves the way to a clearer understanding of the investment opportunity/risk equation. The procedure takes the user from identifying the initial 'business need' to a 'systems classed' status of a design and a ship, ultimately, in operation.

In February, LR issued its first guidance on cyber-enabled ships, ‘Deploying Information and Communications Technology in Shipping – Lloyd’s Register’s Approach to Assurance’. This identified the elements that constitute a cyber-enabled ship and the activities that need to take place to ensure that cyber technology does not introduce a safety risk. This ShipRight procedure follows on from that initial guidance and should be read in conjunction with it. It provides LR’s framework for accepting cyber technology at varying levels of autonomy.

LR is working with leading industry players to make autonomous shipping a practical reality. This guidance has been peer reviewed by leading technology companies. Speaking on the future of autonomous shipping, Lloyd's Register's Head of Innovation Strategy & Research, Luis Benito said:

"Maybe a few years ago this was seen as unlikely. Today, the market wants autonomous ships that can be operated with varying levels of control. So, we have now described and delivered the levels required to make decisions enabling the design, construction and operation of autonomous ships to take place. The levels provide a procedure to address the safety and practical issues required to meet classification, regulatory and market drivers.

"In the future everything will be cheaper, but with better performance. That’s what the market is looking for. But most importantly, from LR’s perspective, as well as being more cost effective, shipping can also be safer. Safety will reduce costs. We are only at the start of the cyber ship and a cyber-enabled shipping industry but we are making amazing progress. We are trying to help the industry adopt the data, digital and connectivity technologies could deliver benefits to shipping – and to help keep ships safe.

"We are working with clients to create the new generations of cyber ship safety, security and maintenance monitoring and performance guidance that will help secure improved performance and return on investment. Autonomy is one part of our cyber shipping opportunities."

The modern cargo vessel already is packed with technology to make ocean shipping safer, more economical and environmentally acceptable. From the position of studying the multiple readouts available to a crew to enable best decisions, to ensuring the machinery itself controls everything aboard for optimum performance, is but a short step. Plotting and steering a course automatically is a much bigger deal and may, or may not, find acceptability from the ocean going community and the land based authorities which watch over it.