Dutch company RH Marine has started a 3 year research in order to let ships sail autonomously in a safe way. The study aims to develop algorithms which enable unmanned self-propelled vessels to sail efficiently from A to B, which recognize dangerous situations and learn to avoid these dangers.
The research is part of the larger European project Safer Autonomous Systems (SAS) under the direction of the KU Leuven (BE), in which the safety of various autonomous systems is being researched. A consortium of companies participates in the project, including MIRA, Bosch, Airbus, Jaguar and Lloyd’s Register. RH Marine, together with the Dutch maritime research institute MARIN, focuses on the safety of unmanned self-propelled vessels. The project is funded by the EU Horizon 2020 program, which couples and stimulates research and innovation.
RH Marine is a leading integrator of electrical and automation systems in super yacht, dredging and offshore industry and the defence, safety and security sectors. ,,We have been approached for this project because of these experience and our expertise in the field of innovation,” says Portfolio Manager Marcel Vermeulen of RH Marine. ,,We are already developing complex systems for naval, dredging, offshore and super yacht sector. Our future goal is to enable our customer’s vessels to sail autonomously. By participating in SAS, we can make significant strides in that ambition.”
The major aim of the SAS project is to establish confidence in the safety of autonomous systems. For this objective, RH Marine’s will develop three different algorithms. The first is to optimize the way from A to B for autonomous vessels, so that they sail as efficiently as possible at the lowest possible cost. This algorithm must be able to operate an entire fleet. In addition, the research must lead to an algorithm that, based on the data from sensors, can develop a complete situational awareness, which can assess actual situations and learn to recognize hazards. The third algorithm must avoid those hazards. ,,That is still the missing link for many systems,” Vermeulen knows. ,,Eventually, the ship has to decide for itself what it will do in difficult situations. Sometimes, besides following all the rules, good seamanship is decisive. Thus, with Artificial Intelligence-technology we have to develop an algorithm that operates smarter but recognisable for humans.”
The next three years a PhD student will be appointed, who will work on the three algorithms together with the RH Marine development team. The researcher’s job includes short internships at KU Leuven, MARIN and Lloyd’s Register. ,,Lloyd’s participation in the consortium is important because all kinds of regulations will have to be adapted for autonomous sailing. That too is being surveyed,” explains Vermeulen.
SAS is a so-called Early-Stage Research (ESR). The ultimate goal is to prove by model-based safety-analysis techniques that the behaviour of an autonomous vessel remains safe under all possible conditions.
Several companies in the world are engaged in similar projects for autonomous sailing, for instance in studies for self-propelled container vessels. Vermeulen: ,,With this project, Europe can take the lead. We already have the technology to operate ships remotely, so that they can sail unmanned. What we are going to research in the coming years is how to sail in a safe way entirely autonomously.”