Rolls-Royce demonstrates world’s first remotely operated commercial vessel


Rolls-Royce and global towage operator Svitzer have successfully demonstrated the world’s first remotely operated commercial vessel in Copenhagen harbour, Denmark.

Earlier this year, one of Svitzer´s tugs, the 28m long Svitzer Hermod, safely conducted a number of remotely controlled manoeuvres. From the quay side in Copenhagen harbour the vessel’s captain, stationed at the vessel’s remote base at Svitzer headquarters, berthed the vessel alongside the quay, undocked, turned 360°, and piloted it to the Svitzer HQ, before docking again.

The companies have also signed an agreement to continue their cooperation to test remote and autonomous operations for vessels. The primary systems involved will be autonomous navigation, situational awareness, remote control centre and communication.

Mikael Makinen, Rolls-Royce, President – Marine who witnessed the event said; “It was an honour to be present at what I believe was a world first and 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. 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.”

Kristian Brauner, Chief Technology Officer, Svitzer said; “Disruption through innovation is happening in almost every industry and sector and technology will also be transforming the maritime industry. As the largest global towage company, 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. We are proud to be partnering with Rolls-Royce in this high-level research and development of systems for remote operation.”

The Svitzer Hermod, a Robert Allan ship design, was built in Turkey at the Sanmar yard in 2016. It is equipped with a Rolls-Royce Dynamic Positioning System, which is the key link to the remote controlled system. The vessel is also equipped with a pair of MTU 16V4000 M63 diesel engines from Rolls-Royce, each rated 2000 kW at 1800 rpm.

The vessel also 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 reliably and securely to a Remote Operating Centre (ROC) from where the Captain controls the vessel.

The Remote Operating Centre was designed to redefine the way in which vessels are controlled. Instead of copying existing wheelhouse design the ROC used input from experienced captains to place the different system components in the optimum place to give the master confidence and control. The aim is to create a future proof standard for the control of vessels remotely.

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. We are honoured to be working as partners on this ground-breaking project in the industry’s journey to autonomous vessels.”

Throughout the demonstration the vessel had a fully qualified captain and crew on board to ensure safe operation in the event of a system failure.

Source: Rolls-Royce 

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  1. What a strange statement to release. We have a bunch of executives of Rolls Royce and Lloyds list jumping up and down like excited children who have just built a den in the garden. But a den is not a house. As to driving a tug around a harbour and claiming it as the first commercial vessel to be autonomous is ridiculous. It never performed any commercial operation, possibly because they have not yet worked out how to get a tow line up to the ship.
    So all they have done is what hundreds of model ship enthusiasts have been doing for years. It would be good if we could get the existing technology working at sea first, never having sailed on a ship where everything was working at the same time and did not break down at some time during a prolonged voyage, especially new ships out of the yard.
    If autonomy is to come then the building yards will have to considerably improve their quality control. Anyway, first they are going to have to find an owner who is willing to build one. A 17 man Filipino crew and registration in some maritime blind island state is going to be economically viable for a long time to come. In other words, the ship owners do not really want these ships; just like the Nuclear power ships, the sail aided ships, and other ideas supported by those with little real seagoing experience.

    • I have been involved in vetting and acceptance trials on Drillships, your right. They could not possibly run initially autonomously. In rigorous testing for months, still had not ironed out all the possible faults with automated shutdowns on gas and fire alarm being able to stop all six engines being a serious issue.

  2. I have the feeling that, with the articles I read about autonomous ships, the main issue is how to deal with navigation while this is just a small part of the work being done onboard.
    Let's say an average crew consists of around 20 members. Out of these 20 three are involved with navigation. Depending the trade of the vessel these 3 spent about 40% of their time with navigation, the other 60% is spent on cargo, administration, safety, maintenance, docking etc.
    If remote controlled vessels will become operational they should have zero crew. If not the win is too marginal because vessels will need accommodation and therefore auxiliary equipment, facilities, staff etc. This means that the work of the 17 other crew members PLUS the 60% of the work done by navigation officers must be automated or remotely controlled as well. This, together with legal consequences like cargo responsibility or practical matters as hold cleaning, is a bigger challenge than navigating by remote control