Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Register Sets Out to Investigate the Risks of Autonomous Vessels

Merchant and Military Uses Considered
Shipping News Feature
WORLDWIDE – With autonomous vessels seemingly the future of the international shipping industry, the effects of such cutting edge technology on the worldwide maritime trade remains somewhat concerning to many. In an attempt to alleviate and address some points, Lloyd’s Register (LR) has joined other industry interests to collaborate on a collision avoidance research project, whilst the Danish Maritime Authority (DMA) has launched a pre-study to set the framework on the use of unmanned vessels.

Firstly, in the UK, LR is participating in the MAXCMAS (Machine executable collision regulations for Marine Autonomous systems) project, a £1.27 million collaborative research project that aims to investigate, develop and implement real-time collision avoidance algorithms for autonomous maritime vessels. The MAXCMAS project will be completed next year; it brings together expertise from LR, Rolls Royce as project lead, Atlas Elektronik UK, Queen’s University Belfast and Southampton Solent University’s Warsash Maritime Academy.

The MAXCMAS project aims to develop what it terms ‘COLREGs’ (the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea 1972) including compliant collision avoidance navigation for autonomous ships and other Unmanned Surface Vessels (USVs). Compliance with current and future regulations is instrumental to the wide-scale use of USVs at sea. Being able to demonstrate satisfactory autonomous operation that meets the COLREGs is also pivotal to maritime safety.

The project also hopes to carry out comprehensive machine execution of the COLREGs and demonstrate these in part in real-world representative sea trials. With academic support, the industry participants aim to demonstrate autonomous control of a USV for Mine Counter Measure (MCM) operations and develop broader USV applications along with navigational support for larger conventional vessels.

A key innovation will be the use of networked bridge simulators as a safe, yet effective, test environment in the first instance. These highly immersive simulators which generate all round 3D images are ordinarily used for mariner training and will be used to rapidly iterate development in light of human reaction from the crew and real-world difficulties such as degraded sensors. Jesus Mediavilla Varas, Strategic Research Lab Lead Specialist and LR’s lead on the project commented:

"Lloyd’s Register’s main contribution is a number of safety assurance activities, including providing software assurance advice. The activities are aimed at identifying the challenges and solutions to assuring the safe implementation of the COLREGs principles and reducing the risk of operating autonomous vessels. The maritime industry is moving towards smarter and more autonomous vessels, and involvement in research projects like MAXCMAS allows us to better understand the technological risks and control measures associated with greater autonomy and to be equipped to provide assurance to our clients when the technology is ready."

Over in Denmark, the Danish Maritime Authority is teaming up with the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) to increase the common knowledge base and to set the preliminary frames so that the development and use of unmanned ships can evolve in an appropriate manner. Danish Minister for Business and Growth Troels Lund Poulsen commented:

“This is a really interesting area and, in the short term, the technology can be used to make our ships safer and more efficient. In the longer term, research in autonomous ships may become a great advantage for Blue Denmark. The global maritime sector is faced with a number of challenges that will also be considered during next week's Danish Maritime Days, and this technology could turn out to be part of the solution."

The planned pre-study will be carried out under the DTU project on research-based maritime consultancy which is financed by the Danish Maritime Fund. The purpose of the project is to ensure that the Danish maritime industry has definition of what the concept of unmanned vessels actually covers and to propose how to develop useful, functional projects capable of contributing to the sector both in terms of technology and economy.

Several projects on autonomous ships have already been completed, such as the EU-financed MUNIN project and several projects driven by the industry, and as the technology advances the next phase of testing is currently underway. Norway was the first country to take that step with the Norwegian Maritime Authority and the Norwegian Coastal Administration having signed an agreement to allow for testing of autonomous ships in the Trondheim fjord.