Rolls-Royce recently demonstrated to the public what it refers to as the “world’s first fully autonomous ferry” on transit between Nauvo and Parainen in Finland.
The British-based company became partners with Finferries, a Finnish state-owned entity, in May, disclosing its intentions to “optimize ship safety and efficiency” not only through creating but also demonstrating self-driving ferry technologies.
The first positive results of this remarkable initiative, Safer Vessel with Autonomous Navigation (SVAN) were recently revealed, especially after the team involved conducted about 400 hours of tests in the Turku archipelago.
“Today’s demonstration proves that the autonomous ship is not just a concept, but something that will transform shipping as we know it,” said Mikael Makinen, the Rolls-Royce’s president for commercial marine.
The ferry was fitted with numerous sensors integrated with artificial intelligence software in a bid to assist it in identifying and avoiding objects in its direct vicinity.
While sailing from Parainen to Nauvo, the 53.8-meter Falco car ferry functioned completely autonomously.
However, its return journey was remotely controlled from a command post located 50km away in Turku, as proof that humans can commandeer the ship if necessary.
Furthermore, Finferries and Rolls-Royce showed an “auto-docking” system that allows the ferry to not only change its course but also speed when moving into a port.
“Today marks a huge step forward in the journey toward autonomous shipping and reaffirms exactly what we have been saying for several years, that autonomous shipping will happen,” Makinen added. “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.”
Trains, planes, and autonomous ferries
Even though not a single day passes without autonomous cars being mentioned, there has been a less-popularized endeavor to bring autonomy into other various modes of transportation such as trains, planes, and sea-faring vessels.
In 2016, news cropped up about an autonomous warship dubbed Sea Hunter, which was created by US-based research agency DARPA.
Later in 2017, a new unmanned cargo ship, Yara Birkeland, was unveiled in Norway, even though it is not expected to operate fully crewless until 2020.
Recently, Rolls-Royce revealed its collaboration with Intel, which is intended to bring self-steered cargo vessels to the seas of the world by 2025.
With automotive and technology giants like Volvo and Alphabet’s Waymo continuing to iterate and improve on their autonomous car smarts, we have started to witness the initial commercial implementations of that groundwork.
Back in November, Volvo revealed that its first-ever commercial autonomous trucks would be utilized in the mining industry.
On the other hand, Waymo is looking forward to launching a self-driving taxi service without any human presence in the driver seat.
“As a modern ship owner, our main goal in this cooperation has been on increasing safety in marine traffic, as this is beneficial for both the environment and our passengers,” added Finferries CEO Mats Rosin. “But we are also equally excited about how this demonstration opens the door to the new possibilities of autonomous shipping and safety.”