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Unmanned offshore vessel takes shape

Written by  OE Staff Tuesday, 01 November 2016 06:59

UK firm Automated Ships and Norway’s Kongsberg Maritime have signed a memorandum of understanding to build the world’s first unmanned and fully-automated vessel for offshore operations.

In January 2017, Automated Ships will contract the Hrönn, which will be designed and built in Norway in cooperation with Kongsberg.

Sea trials will take place in Norway’s newly designated automated vessel test bed in the Trondheim fjord and will be conducted under the auspices of DNV GL and the Norwegian Maritime Authority. 

Currently, only small unmanned boats are being utilized for near shore operations but there are no technical limitations to constructing large, unmanned and automated systems, says Kongsberg.

"The only impediments are regulatory, but with the participation of DNV GL and the NMA, and Norwegian and UK companies and institutions, it will be possible to rapidly and at low-cost be the first to market with a full-size unmanned ship," the firm says. 

Hrönn is a light-duty, offshore utility ship expected to service the offshore energy, scientific/hydrographic and offshore fish-farming industries. Its intended uses include but are not limited to: survey, remotely operated vehicle and autonomous underwater vehicle) launch and recovery, light intermodal cargo delivery and delivery to offshore installations, and open-water fish farm support.

The vessel can also be used as a standby vessel, able to provide firefighting support to an offshore platform working in cooperation with manned vessels, says Kongsberg.

Automated Ships says it is currently in discussion with several end-users that will act as early-adopters and to establish a base-rate for operations and secure contracts for Hrönn offshore, in the near future.

Hrönn will initially operate and function primarily as a remotely piloted ship, in Man-in-the-Loop Control mode, but will transition to fully automated, and ultimately autonomous operations as the control algorithms are developed concurrently during remotely piloted operations. 

Automated Ships will be the primary integrator, project manager and ship-owner of this world’s first fully automated and unmanned ship for commercial use. 

Kongsberg will deliver all major marine equipment necessary for the design, construction and operation of Hrönn, from dynamic positioning and navigation, satellite and position reference, marine automation and communication. All vessel control systems including K-Pos dynamic positioning, K-Chief automation and K-Bridge ECDIS will be replicated at an Onshore Control Centre, allowing full remote operations of the Hrönn.

“The advantages of unmanned ships are manifold, but primarily centre on the safe guarding of life and reduction in the cost of production and operations; removing people from the hazardous environment of at-sea operations and re-employing them on-shore to monitor and operate robotic vessels remotely, along with the significantly decreased cost in constructing ships, will revolutionize the marine industry. Automated Ships Ltd will be at the forefront of that revolution, along with its many Norwegian partners,” said Managing Director Brett A. Phaneuf of Automated Ships.

Hrönn is expected to be built by Fjellstrand, a Norwegian shipyard with a long history of building state-of-the-art aluminium fast ferries in addition to a number of steel offshore vessels and aluminium work boats. As the builder of the world’s first battery driven car ferry, Ampere, Fjellstrand is known for taking the lead in maritime innovation and green technology.

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