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Autonomous ship steering system developed

A demo version of an autonomous ship control centre created by VTT A demo version of an autonomous ship control centre created by VTT

The VTT Technical Research Centre in Finland reports that it has developed a new steering system to be used by remote-monitored and controlled autonomous ships, which will be applied to navigation systems and ship autopilots with the aim of steering ships automatically.

{mprestriction ids="1,2"}VTT is one of the founding members of the Advanced Autonomous Waterborne Applications Initiative, a €6.6 million Finland-based project funded by Tekes (Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation) that is scheduled to run up to the end of 2017.

“VTT has deep knowledge of autonomous ship research concerning, especially, reliability and safety topics. Such special expertise has now led to the development of navigation systems for autonomous ships,” said Jussi Martio, a senior scientist at VTT.

“This requires an autopilot, which is used to control a moving vessel, including during evasive manoeuvres according to International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (Colregs).”

The Apilot autopilot developed by VTT has three modes: track mode, heading mode, and slow joystick control.

In the ‘track mode’, Apilot steers the ship along a previously agreed route. If the ship detects another vessel which must be avoided, the autopilot switches to ‘heading mode’ which will enable Apilot to make the necessary manoeuvres to avoid the other vessel by changing the ship’s heading. The autopilot returns to ‘track mode’ after the other vessel has been avoided.

When the joystick function is enabled, control and propulsion equipment are adjusted to a low speed manoeuvring configuration and Apilot will allow for control of the systems using the joystick, for example to manoeuvre sideways into a dock.

The autopilot is programmed to ensure that that the ship remains within a set distance from the planned route at all times. If the limits in question are exceeded, the autopilot provides a warning and remote control is rescinded.{/mprestriction}

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