Drones, making the connection
Rotterdam-based Kotug has applied for a patent to use drone technology to reduce the risks for tugs operating in the so-called danger zone when connecting towlines to ships.
The history of towing is one of evolution and innovation. Whether it is development of thruster technologies or ‘green tugs’ aimed at improving operational efficiencies, those involved certainly cannot be accused of standing still with improving the product.
Improving safety is important motivation for innovation and with unmanned tugs on the drawing board, connecting a towline to the assisted ship is an obvious hurdle so Kotug’s plans to use a drone for this, while aimed at safer and more efficient working could have a link to the topic of unmanned tugs.
Dangers are particularly present when the forward tug is manoeuvred close to the bow of the ship while underway with potentially disastrous consequences should the tug loose power or position. Operating in this danger zone sees the heaving line being passed from the ship, Kotug’s solution involves transferring a messenger line from the tug to a predetermined location using object recognition software. This allows the tug to safely sail beside rather than in front of the assisted ship.
Kotug plans a series of tests for full operational use of the drone including standard operating procedures in conjunction with relevant authorities and stakeholders.
Kotug is not alone in this field. At ITS 2016 Eddy Tugs discussed its own thoughts on the subject including potential use of motion-controlled crane arms (similar to hose-booms on bunker barges). A preferred solution is the use of a tethered air-drone with a 20kg payload, electronic flight stabilisation and enhanced endurance from power supplied via a thin cable inside the tether. With development work surrounding unmanned tugs it is clear the associated conundrum of how to make the towing connection is being addressed.
By Peter Barker
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