Thursday, January 16, 2020

Pilot System Software Moves Autonomous Shipping a Stage Closer

Bridge Watch May Never be the Same Again
Shipping News Feature

UK – WORLDWIDE – Robosys Automation will launch the latest version of its Voyager 100 series software for commercial vessels at the Maritime Research Institute (MARIN) in Wageningen, Netherlands on 29 and 30 January. Robosys claims this is the first and only software system developed specifically to support bridge watchkeepers and describe it as a 24/7 'Junior Officer of the Watch'.

The equipment takes the burden off the watchkeeper and is possible to retrofit on the bridge. Voyager 100 series is available in two versions: SmartCaptain is an advisory system offering a basic ‘Decision Aid’ for navigation and collision avoidance, useful in busy waters. SmartPilot is linked to the ship’s autopilot and propulsion system to provide an ‘Intelligent Autopilot’.

In simple terms, the Voyager 100 series analyses the navigational and shipping situation and presents a prioritised set of recommendations to the crew. SmartCaptain acts solely in an advisory capacity whilst SmartPilot manoeuvres the vessel on behalf of the crew, who can take complete control instantly should they wish to do so. Robosys CEO Aditya Nawab, comments:

“Several ship operators and ship builders are very interested in this system. Voyager 100 does not aim to replace crew, they are essential to the modern ship and in short supply so we need to use them wisely. Voyager 100 allows the bridge crew to multitask safely, whilst providing a steady ‘hand on the helm’.”

There is a growing demand for autonomy amongst industry leaders across the military and commercial sectors of the maritime environment. A robust, predictable, legally compliant and safe collision avoidance system will be at the heart of any enduring solution. A system that cannot ‘fall asleep’ on watch or be distracted frees up manpower. The Voyager takes up little room using just power supplies and possibly air conditioning and requires minimal operator training. Richard Farrington CBE and Robosys COO points out the advantages thus:

“According to reports by professional organisations such as the European Maritime Safety Agency, Japanese and European insurance agencies, anything between 65% and 95% of accidents at sea are attributed to human error. So anything that can reduce that has got to be welcomed. Interestingly, a Finnish university ran a study in 2018 whereby ships masters were invited to sit a ‘rule of the road test’.

”They scored 90%. They then got a computer-based system with algorithms to sit the same test. It scored 100% every time. The inference is that if you can translate those sorts of algorithms from the ‘laboratory’ to the real world, then you are starting to make a real contribution to safety at sea. [Voyager] has been tested extensively in bridge simulators and at sea. We would never claim that it has the wit and guile of a ship’s master with 40 years of experience at sea, but we can show that it operates safely, 24 hours a day.

”[However] with any data-based technology, there’s always the risk of ‘rubbish in, rubbish out’. So with the Voyager 100 system, it will identify a discrepancy between a radar input and the AIS (Automatic Identification of Ships) feed, flag this up to the on board crew and keep the vessel safe until the ‘conflict’ is resolved. All this leads to greater elements of safety.

”[The system) needs a modern digital radar and an autopilot that can take NMEA 0183 or better. The team at Robosys have extensive experience integrating a wide range of different radars and we have data exchange agreements with the major radar and autopilot manufacturers. A typical installation in a ship takes 7 working days.

”There is a widely recognised shortage of manpower in the marine industry in general and this will help with the recruitment and retaining of valuable people who will be more likely to stay at sea if some of the stress and pressure is removed. This first key step is part of the journey to the next stage of autonomy where the crew is ashore (‘the most difficult part of going for a walk is pulling your boots on’).

”[However] that requires the industry’s ability to provide a ‘lookout’ in accordance with the Collision regulations, and the technology for that, whilst it exists, is too expensive…today. Tomorrow… who knows?”

At the MARIN release Robosys will launch a new Human Machine Interface it has developed to further enhance both versions of the Voyager 100 series. The company is already working in close collaboration with MARIN, having been one of a consortium of sixteen Dutch and European organisations engaged in a Netherlands Joint Industry Project on Autonomous Shipping (JIP) in 2019.

The JIP was a programme of practical and academic rigour, carefully planned simulation tests at the MARIN facilities in Wageningen, culminating in a sea trials programme in the North Sea. The Robosys autonomous navigation system was integrated in a Damen 26 metre fast crew supply vessel (FCS).

The two other ‘target’ vessels, a 30 metre Research Vessel and a 65 metre Coastguard Emergency Towing Vessel were tasked with challenging the system's collision avoidance capability. Throughout the trial the Obstacle Avoidance Software proved its ability to navigate safely, taking full account of the risks and complying with the International Collision regulations.

Photo: Sea Zip 3 and Octans during the North Sea trial.