The technology group Wärtsilä has taken a further crucial step towards developing its Smart Marine capabilities by successfully testing remote-control ship operations in what its Director of Engineering, Iain Huntley-Playle, is claiming as “a first for the industry”.
The testing, which involved driving the vessel through a sequence of manoeuvres using a combination of Dynamic Positioning (DP) and manual joystick control, took place on August 21 off the North Sea coast of Scotland using a vessel from Gulfmark Offshore.
The vessel was driven through a series of manoeuvres at both high and low speeds for almost four hours.
Although the test vessel was in the North Sea, the remote-control navigating was carried out from the Wärtsilä office in San Diego, California, 8,000 kilometres away.
In a video about the achievement (above), made on the day of testing, Huntley-Playle said: “Today was exciting. It's the first time we've actually really tested this over such a long range, I think it's probably a first for the industry, and for us certainly it was a first.”
Wärtsilä’s Dynamic Positioning unit developed remote control capabilities in the early part of 2016, but this was the first test carried out on an offshore vessel.
It is expected that Wärtsilä’s development of successful remote access to ships will also enable virtual service solutions to customers needing tuning or testing of their DP systems.
Other pilot projects covering procedures such as automated docking are also planning to use the system.
The vessel, the ‘Highland Chieftain’ is an 80-metre platform supply vessel already fitted with a Wärtsilä Nacos Platinum package for Navigation, Automation and Dynamic Positioning systems, as well as a Wärtsilä drives package.
For the test, additional software was temporarily added to the DP system in order to route data over the vessel’s satellite link to the onshore work station in California.
Wärtsilä’s use of standard bandwidth onboard satellite communication meant there was no need for land-based technology communications between the vessel and the remote operator work station.
Retrofitting the DP software took 30 hours due to Wärtsilä’s modular system.
Roger Holm, President, Wärtsilä Marine Solutions, said: “Wärtsilä is committed to developing technologies that enable a Smart Marine future.
“In the age of digitalisation, the future Smart Marine ecosystem will involve connecting ‘smart’ vessels with ‘smart’ ports to enable an even more efficient use of resources.
“It will also reduce the impact on climate while enhancing safety.”
Andrea Morgante, Head of Digital, Wärtsilä Marine Solutions adds: “One of the first and most critical hurdles to overcome along the path to the enablement of intelligent shipping is to develop efficient and reliable remote control and monitoring capabilities, taking factors such as bandwidth limitations and cyber security into consideration.
“This test provides a clear indication that we are well on the way to achieving this. The fact that the ship was enabled for remote operation in only a few hours is a strong endorsement of Wärtsilä’s position at the forefront of marine technology development.
An important step in automated procedures was taken by technology group Wärtsilä in March, 2017, after made progress with its latest innovation, SmartPredict, which aims to provide safer and more efficient vessel operations by reducing the risks associated with manoeuvring.