Autonomous Operations at Sea

Group Design Project
An investigation to show proof of concept for a number of autonomous solutions applicable to full scale ships, both practically and conceptually
Group Members
Gilberto Besana, Daniel Bruce, Stelios Desypris, Thomas Dickson, Jack Gradus, Amelia Jenkins, Carlos Losada de la Lastra, Aspasia-Sofia Pastrikou

Dr. Jon Downes, Professor Stephen Turnock, Professor Philip Wilson

BAE Systems, ASV Global, H-Scientific, Barrus, Barden UK, Warsash Maritime Academy, Extreme Marine Trailers

While small autonomous vessels have been in operation for about 20 years, the maritime industry has begun to invest a large amount of money and research into the potential of large autonomous vessels. Investigation shows that if merchant ships were made autonomous there could be significant economic, environmental and social benefits. The aim of this project was to show proof of concept for a number of autonomous solutions, and to test some of these concepts practically wherever possible. It was decided to tackle this by designing an autonomous container ship, ACCV Independence, to highlight the key similarities and differences between a manned and unmanned vessel. This was used to develop an understanding of some of the barriers to autonomous shipping, while ASV Fortitude (designed and built by a previous group in 2015) was utilised as a test platform for navigation, systems management and communication.

Fortitude was designed as a transatlantic autonomous surface vessel (ASV). Initial testing found that she required a significant amount of refitting in order to get her working autonomously. This refit included resistance and manoeuvrability, the vessel’s energy, electrical and control systems, and the design of a bilge system.
Upon refit, Fortitude was tested at Warsash Maritime Academy’s Ship Handling Centre. Results from the final set of testing proved to be successful. Fortitude is now capable of remote control and autonomous operation. The knowledge gained during the process of the refit also proved to be extremely beneficial towards investigating the feasibility of an ACCV. One of the most crucial factors of autonomy was shown to be reliability and the group tried to improve the reliability of Fortitude by increasing redundancy of all of the technical systems.

The final conclusion drawn from this investigation is that autonomous shipping could be feasible in the future. Results from the technical investigations show that there are still many barriers that need to be overcome, but these could be solved within the near future if the maritime industry continues with the steady migration towards unmanned shipping. This migration is motivated by the potential for the economic, social and environmental benefits. It is difficult to estimate the time it will take for autonomous ships to become operational, but it is suggested that further implementation and testing, on a smaller scale as with Fortitude, will push the technology closer to realisation.