Technology group Wärtsilä and PSA Marine have successfully completed initial sea trials for the IntelliTug.

Taking advantage of advances in automation in the shipping industry takes many forms including, taking a broad view the potential for remotely controlled through to fully autonomous and unmanned vessels- including tugs.

MJ reported previously on the joint project between Wärtsilä and PSA Marine to develop the first commercial Maritime Autonomous Surface Ship (MASS) and the PSA Marine owned harbour tug PSA Polaris, retrofitted with a suite of Wärtsilä technology enabling autonomous navigation has completed trials in Port of Singapore waters. Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) reports it is fully supporting industry efforts to enable autonomous ship operations within Singapore therefore offering a MASS-ready port.

The project is a collaboration between Wärtsilä, PSA Marine, Lloyd’s Register and The Technology Centre for Offshore and Marine Singapore (TCOMS) and is co-funded by MPA’s Maritime Innovation and Technology Fund.

Trials verified Intellitug’s capability to avoid a variety of obstacles including virtual and real-life moving vessels, part of MPA’s MASS initiative which includes the aims to promote R&D capability in the field and validate concepts of operations and technologies. This in turn enables technology developers, the research community, and maritime stakeholders to capture future MASS-related opportunities.

The trials themselves were carried out in Singapore using the “MPA MASS regulatory sandbox”, established to facilitate testing of MASS and other autonomous technologies in a safe and controlled environment within the port.

Trials involved the 27m PSA Polaris being fitted with an integrated suite of hardware and intelligent software sensor systems including Wärtsilä’s RS24 near-field high resolution radar and its dynamic positioning system providing autonomous capabilities. Data collection via sensors has been ongoing since the start of the project along with development of a collision avoidance algorithm.

A new “smart navigation system” developed in cooperation with PSA Marine’s tug masters selected destinations for hundreds of test cases to be carried out, the system allowing the user to easily see the routes plotted including collision avoidance in real-time. The smart navigation system sends track and speed commands to the DP system which drives the tug along the route safely at speeds of up to 10kn. These manoeuvres are expected to follow set behaviours and meet success criteria to reach the destinations.

At all times PSA Marine tug masters were able to determine if the tests were safe to continue and had full control to abort testing at any time if required.

Wärtsilä describe the project as being: “aimed at developing and field-testing intelligent vessel capabilities and viable pathways towards smarter, safer, and more efficient ways of operating a harbour tug. This is achieved through the provision of human-centric technology, design-thinking, and man–machine collaboration.”

Prior to the trials, integration and system testing was carried out using Wärtsilä’s autonomous ship simulator and TCOMS carried out further validation of various data gathered from the sensor suite along with real-time performance of the tug through a digital twin incorporating the physical environment encountered in the sea trials. Lloyd’s Register’s involvement throughout the project supports development of the trial’s safety case, while collaborating on the human factors and technology design process.

Peter Chew, managing director of PSA Marine said: “PSA Marine is constantly innovating to redefine the capabilities of our tugs. The achievement seen in the IntelliTug project is a testament that with strong partnership, alignment of purpose and the courage to innovate, ideas can be turned into reality. With the incorporation of feedback and experience from our tug masters, the smart technology developed in the IntelliTug project augments our tug masters’ situational awareness and amplifies their capabilities. We will continue to work closely with the stakeholders and look forward to future developments of the project.”

For Wärtsilä, Thomas Brightwell, SACA software manager commented: “Wärtsilä has taken a rigorous, staggered approach to the sea trials, first to prove the fundamental safety and accuracy capabilities of the system, and then moving on to real obstacle-free path planning. It has further progressed to more complicated test cases, previously attempted in digital batch testing and digital first-person simulation. The design of the test cases was a collaborative effort involving tug masters and a master mariner, with close review and continuous refinement with MPA throughout the project.”

By Peter Barker