Van Oord Orders Autonomous Offshore Vessel from Demcon

©Demcon unmanned systems
©Demcon unmanned systems

Dutch marine services and dredging contractor Van Oord has ordered an unmanned, autonomous offshore vessel from Demcon unmanned systems, a company that develops and builds unmanned, autonomously vessel platforms for survey and inspection activities in inland, coastal and offshore environments.

According to Demcon, the vessel is suitable for challenging offshore conditions and weeklong survey operations at sea. It will have more batteries than the previous version, and if this is not sufficient, a hybrid system can further extend the time and range at sea up to thirty days.

"The use of these electric unmanned vessels enables Van Oord to make their operations more sustainable, work more safely, and optimally deploy its employees," Demcon said.

"Van Oord has already had good experience with the electrically powered survey vessels for hydrographical inspections on inland waters, with the DUS V2500 models. With this order, the maritime contractor is moving towards unmanned offshore surveys," Demcon said.

Dredging, Offshore Wind

The new vessel can be used in support of dredging operations, installing offshore wind farms, and constructing maritime infrastructure, according to Demcon.

"The autonomous offshore inspection platform is with 6 meters in size a magnitude larger than the DUS V2500 model, must be able to sail at sea for several weeks and will incorporate new autonomous applications for unmanned offshore operations,” says Fedor Ester, managing director of Demcon.

"It contains our standardized and modular autonomous navigation system. We design and scale the hull, power, and propulsion around this system based on client-specific performance criteria. Moreover, we will be adding new functionalities to better suit operational requirements.” 

This will become the DUS V5750 model. 

"An easy to use vessel that can stand on land without any auxiliary aids and fits into a 20-foot container. The vessel will be delivered to Van Oord within one year. After that, we will continuously upgrade the vessel and autonomous navigation system software. This way, together with Van Oord, we will be improving the autonomous navigation and increasing the vessel’s range of applications over its lifetime.”

The vessel will also be used for the inspection (“touchdown monitoring”) of cables being laid from and to offshore windfarms.

Ester explains: “A cable laying vessel slowly sails along and needs to be followed by a survey vessel. Depending on weather conditions this can be challenging and inefficient from a technical sailing perspective. We will be developing a weather-dependent Dynamic Positioning functionality for this purpose. This functionality ensures that the vessel’s nose is pointed in the direction of wind, currents, and waves to provide for the least possible resistance. It is therefore possible that the vessel will be following the cable-laying vessel in a lateral position. While this may seem like an unnatural angle, this is more efficient and not a problem due to our own innovative Dynamic Positioning system.”

Wim Balvert, responsible for the management and innovation of all survey equipment at Van Oord: “We began working with Demcon unmanned systems to develop a comprehensive solution. They assessed the technology used on our manned survey vessels and designed unmanned vessels for this purpose.”

The initial result was the VO:X Metiri (first DUS V2500 vessel), a robust and compact inspection platform measuring a mere 2.5 meters for use on inland waters and in coastal areas. With these 100% electric, autonomous vessels, Van Oord is able to perform survey activities remotely, cost-efficiently and in an automated manner. Van Oord’s initial experience was so positive that it has since acquired four of these vessels and also perceived potential applications for a larger, seaworthy version.

Demcon said that the existing Demcon situational awareness system – ‘where am I and what do I see around me?’ – will be expanded for navigation at sea.

It will operate at short distances (150 meters) and in complex enclosed environments using, amongst others, 360-degree laser scanning technology with LiDAR sensors. Different types of cameras, radar, and electronic navigation chart data will be used to look further away and in different weather conditions. Smart algorithms process and fuse the information of all of these sensors and sources into a digital world model of the environment surrounding the vessel. The DUS collision avoidance system ensures that obstacles are identified and decides how to avoid them in compliance with the rules that apply to sailing on water.

According to Demcon, the vessel is virtually unsinkable due to its watertight, segmented, and self-righting hull. This enables the system to remain operational in severe conditions and high waves. No details were shared on the price of the vessel.

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