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Autonomous Ships – Rolls-Royce has completed a research project it says demonstrates that the operation of autonomous vessels can meet, if not exceed, current collision avoidance (COLREG) rules.

The MAchine eXecutable Collision regulations for Marine Autonomous Systems (MAXCMAS) project included partners Lloyd’s Register, Warsash Maritime Academy (WMA), Queen’s University Belfast and Atlas Elektronik (AEUK).

The team found that use of newly developed algorithms allowed existing COLREGs to remain relevant in a crewless environment, finding that artificial intelligence-based navigation systems were able to enact the rules to avoid collision effectively, even when approaching manned vessels were interpreting the rules differently.

A key aspect of the research was the use of WMA’s networked bridge simulators. The simulators were used to analyze reactions from the crew when faced with a range of real-world situations and subsequently hone the MAXCMAS algorithms.

Rolls-Royce Future Technologies Group’s Eshan Rajabally, who led the project, said: “Through MAXCMAS, we have demonstrated autonomous collision avoidance that is indistinguishable from good seafarer behavior, and we’ve confirmed this by having WMA instructors assess MAXCMAS exactly as they would assess the human.”

During the development project, Rolls-Royce and its partners adapted a commercial-specification bridge simulator as a testbed for autonomous navigation. This was also used to validate autonomous seafarer-like collision avoidance in likely real-world scenarios. Various simulator-based scenarios were designed, with the algorithms installed in one of WMA’s conventional bridge simulators. This also included Atlas Elektronik’s ARCIMS mission manager Autonomy Engine, Queen’s University Belfast’s Collision Avoidance algorithms and a Rolls-Royce interface.

During sea trials aboard AEUK’s ARCIMS unmanned surface vessel, collision avoidance was successfully demonstrated in a real environment under true platform motion, sensor performance and environmental conditions.

“The trials showed that an unmanned vessel is capable of making a collision avoidance judgment call even when the give-way vessel isn’t taking appropriate action,” said Ralph Dodds, Innovation & Autonomous Systems Programme Manager at AEUK. “What MAXCMAS does is make the collision avoidance regulations applicable to the unmanned ship.”

The MAXCMAS technology and system has been thoroughly tested both at sea and under a multitude of scenarios using desktop and bridge simulators, says Rolls-Royce, proving that autonomous navigation can meet existing COLREG requirements.

 

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The International Maritime Organization answers the questions of Government Europa on how the next generation of autonomous vessels can be regulated to ensure safety for all involved.

With a myriad of emergent new technologies on the horizon of the maritime industry, such as autonomous vessels, it is vital that regulations are established to ensure the safety, security and efficiency of a new generation of ships. In May, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) – responsible for regulating international shipping – initiated its work into analysing the safety, security and environmental aspects of Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS). Under this, IMO will look towards how such vessels can be addressed under the instruments of the organisation. The International Maritime Organization answers the questions of Government Europa on how the next generation of vessels can be regulated to ensure safety for all involved.

How could autonomous vessels transform Europe’s maritime activities? What kind of issues could it eradicate?

This is not really a question we can answer, as there are many variables in Europe’s maritime activities which are outside IMO’s sphere. IMO, as the global regulatory body, sets the regulations for safe, secure and efficient shipping and for prevention of pollution by ships.

It is important to remember that when we talk about integrating new technologies in shipping, we need to balance the benefits derived from new and advancing technologies against:

  • Safety and security concerns;
  • The impact on the environment;
  • International trade facilitation;
  • The potential costs to the industry; and
  • Their impact on personnel, both on board and ashore.

At 2017’s meeting of the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC), a plan to conduct a series of scoping exercises on MASS was scheduled. As the first stage of that scoping exercise was conducted in May, what safety implications have been identified as a result?

The scoping exercise at the moment is aimed at looking at the current regulations in relation to maritime autonomous surface ships. What we are looking at now is how the rules already adopted could be applied to a ship in various modes of autonomy. So, we are looking at each regulation and seeing whether it would apply to a ship in an autonomous mode, whether it would not apply at all, or do we need to have a new rule specifically for autonomous ships?

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