Rolls-Royce & Finferries test world’s first fully autonomous ferry
autonomous ferry Falco

Rolls-Royce & Finferries test world’s first fully autonomous ferry

Finnish ferry operator Finferries has demonstrated the world’s first fully autonomous ferry, thanks to a collaboration with engineering giant Rolls-Royce.

A car ferry, by the name Falco, used Rolls-Royce Ship Intelligence technologies to navigate autonomously between Parainen and Nauvo in Finland, before the return journey was carried out over remote control.

The ferry’s sensors worked alongside its AI and collision avoidance technology to complete the journey, even berthing using a newly-developed autonomous navigation system, without any intervention from the crew.

Falco is equipped with a range of advanced sensors, which allows it to build a detailed picture of its surroundings, in real-time and with a level of accuracy beyond that of the human eye.

The situational awareness picture is created by fusing sensor data and it is relayed to Finferries’ remote operating centre on land, some 50 kilometres away in Turku city centre. Here, a captain monitors the autonomous operations, and can take control of the vessel if necessary.

Autonomous shipping sets sail

Rolls-Royce has so far clocked close to 400 hours of sea trials, during the autonomous operations tests.

Earlier this year, Rolls-Royce and Finferries began collaborating on a new research project called SVAN (Safer Vessel with Autonomous Navigation), to continue implementing the findings from the earlier Advanced Autonomous Waterborne Applications (AAWA) research project, funded by Business Finland.

Mikael Makinen, Rolls-Royce, President, Commercial Marine, said:

Today marks a huge step forward in the journey towards autonomous shipping and reaffirms exactly what we have been saying for several years, that autonomous shipping will happen.

“The SVAN project has been a successful collaboration between Rolls-Royce and Finferries and an ideal opportunity to showcase to the world how Ship Intelligence technology can bring great benefits in the safe and efficient operation of ships.

“Today’s demonstration proves that the autonomous ship is not just a concept, but something that will transform shipping as we know it.”

Internet of Business says

Fully autonomous navigation technology looks set to make waves in the global shipping industry. In the same way that autonomous trucks will shake-up logistics on land, container ships could benefit from the safety and navigation benefits of advanced autonomous technology.

The international shipping industry is responsible for the carriage of around 90 percent of world trade, with over 50,000 merchant ships trading internationally.

While the cost savings of not needing a truck driver create a clear economic case for autonomous vehicles, the value of doing away with a small proportion of the crew on a multi-million dollar container ship are less clear-cut.

Ferries, such as Falco, and other smaller scale vessels represent a clearer use case, as do scenarios where fog and other hazardous conditions make computer vision and navigation technology superior to the human eye.

There’s also scope for autonomous ships to communicate directly with the smart ports of the future, such as that born of the Port of Rotterdam’s partnership with IBM.

The port will be able to independently monitor the status of berthing terminals, as well as water and weather conditions. There is clear potential here for real-time communication with the AI on approaching autonomous ships to determine optimum docking procedures, thereby maximising safety and efficiency.