Earlier this year in Copenhagen Harbor, the 28-meter-long tug Svitzer Hermod berthed alongside the quay, undocked, turned 360 degrees and sailed back to Svitzer headquarters before docking again, all under remote operation while the captain was stationed quayside at the vessel’s remote base at Svitzer HQ.
Though a captain and crew remained on board throughout to ensure safe operation in the event of a system failure, the remotely controlled maneuvers demonstrated a “world first” for a commercial vessel, according to project partners Rolls-Royce and global towage operator Svitzer.
Mikael Makinen, Rolls-Royce, President – Marine, who witnessed the event, said he believes Svitzer Hermod’s remotely operated maneuvers mark “a genuinely historic moment for the maritime industry.”
“We’ve been saying for a couple of years that a remotely operated commercial vessel would be in operation by the end of the decade,” Makinen said. “Thanks to a unique combination of Svitzer’s operational knowledge and our technological expertise, we have made that vision a reality much sooner than we anticipated.”
The Robert Allan designed Svitzer Hermod, built in Turkey at the Sanmar yard in 2016, is equipped with a Rolls-Royce Dynamic Positioning (DP) system, the key link to the remote controlled system. The vessel features a range of sensors which combine different data inputs using advanced software to give the captain an enhanced understanding of the vessel and its surroundings. The data is transmitted to a Remote Operating Center (ROC) from where the captain controls the vessel.
Rolls-Royce said the ROC was designed to redefine the way in which vessels are controlled; instead of copying existing wheelhouse design, the ROC wass designed using input from captains to place the different system components in the optimum place to give the master confidence and control.
“Disruption through innovation is happening in almost every industry and sector and technology will also be transforming the maritime industry,” said Svitzer Chief Technology Officer, Kristian Brauner. “Svitzer is actively engaging in projects that allow us to explore innovative ways to improve the safety and efficiency of towage operations to benefit our customers and our crews. With its direct impact on our customer performance, operational cost and environmental footprint vessel efficiency remains a main driver now and going forward.”
Rolls-Royce and Svitzer have agreed to continue their cooperation to test remote and autonomous operations for vessels. The primary systems involved will be autonomous navigation, situational awareness, remote control center and communication.
Lloyd’s Register’s Marine & Offshore Director, Nick Brown, commented, “Working on this project with Rolls-Royce and Svitzer and supporting them on the safe demonstration of the Svitzer Hermod is truly a landmark moment for LR and the industry. With autonomous ships likely to enter service soon, we have already set out the ‘how’ of marine autonomous operations in our ShipRight procedure guidance as it is vital these technologies are implemented in a safe way and there is a route for compliance. Lack of prescriptive Rules was no barrier for ‘de-risking’ the project and we provided assurance against LR’s Cyber-Enabled Ships ShipRight Procedure, whilst considering the safety implications associated with the first closed demonstration.”