The national race for the autonomous

National battles are heating up to take the lead in autonomous ship evolution.  Last week Denmark called for more work on making regulations more flexible to allow for the development of autonomous ships, while Norway opened yet another area of its fjord-lined coastline for further testing. And in the UK BMT recently announced a new partnership with the intention to further evolve autonomous shipping

As DMA director-general Andreas Nordseth said in a conference in Copenhagen on autonomous ships last month, this is happening now, not in  the future.

Finland also has its own waters where testing will be carried out, and a research project bringing together sophisticated engineering and electronic skills of a number of companies.

Now the Danish Minister for Industry, Business and Financial Affairs Brian Mikkelsen has put his weight behind finding out what rules need to change to make advances in autonomy easier.

”It is important that Denmark and Danish companies are at the forefront of technology and digitalisation. The development of autonomous ships is fast-moving and we must be at its forefront. However, part of current regulation is based on traditions dating back to the age of sail. That needs to improve. The regulation of autonomous ships shouldn’t be a hindrance to further advances and, therefore, the report published today provides important input.”

His comments come after the IMO has agreed to push ahead with a scoping study, following a proposal by the UK, Denmark, Norway, Finland and other countries. The issue will be raised again when the IMO’s maritime safety committee meets again in 2018.

In the UK a conference on autonomous marine systems was held in Southampton in November. At the event BMT Chief Executive Sarah Kenny admitted the UK was losing ground.  “Other national governments and industries have responded quickly, supporting breakthroughs and taking a long term view of the opportunities that may arise,” she said in her keynote speech going on to ask, “So, is it possible that the case for change has not been articulated clearly enough?”

In her view autonomy will start to fundamentally change the basic structures of the traditional maritime industry, “an industry that has evolved incrementally over centuries and where the UK has been at the forefront of developments, an industry that will now have to adapt, look at itself in a new way and start to take radically new approaches if we are to maintain and grow our market share.”

She went on to say that for the UK technology firms to be competitive in the autonomous ship race it will need “strong and stable leadership from Government.”

In the UK waters of the Solent, near Southampton, another British technology firm, BAE Systems has teamed up with other companies, such as ASV Global, to develop a testing service  for the development of autonomous systems.

Finland has a stretch of water where developers of autonomous creaft can test their technology. The waters will be closed to other traffic when testing has been permitted. The Jaakonmeri Test Area, is managed and controlled by DIMECC, the company managing the  One Sea – Autonomous Maritime Ecosystem.

In Denmark, where the maritime sector commands a larger part of the national GDP, the government appears to already be onboard ”We must be able to seize opportunities created by development of new technology, “ said Mikkelsen in the press release from the Danish Maritime Authority about a new report on the need for regulatory flexibility.

“Denmark has a strong maritime tradition and we want to stay in the lead when it comes to development and testing of technology. In a globalized industry, regulation and standards for autonomous ships must be international. This is the only way to ensure significant global development in this area. I am very pleased that Denmark is already pushing this agenda internationally.”

Earlier in the year Rolls-Royce and AP Moller-Maersk -owned Svitzer demonstrated the ability to remotely control the Svitzer Hermod

The Danish report provides a number of specific recommendations on how Denmark can facilitate and prepare the regulation of autonomous technologies by, inter alia, looking at the regulation on manning, the definition of the term master and permission for a periodically unmanned bridge and what is being called “an electronic lookout.”

Earlier this year Rolls-Royce and AP Moller Maersk-owned Svitzer demonstrated the ability to remotely control a tug.

The latest test area in Norway is in the waters adjacent to Kongsberg’s facilities in the town of Horton, south of Oslo on the Oslo Fjord. A year ago, the first stretch of water in Norway, in the Trondheim Fjord, was allocated as a test area.

Test-beds, such as those off Trondheim, Horten, or in Finland, Denmark and the UK,  are an important resource for companies like Kongsberg, Rolls-Royce and BMT, in the on-going  development of technology for projects such as the YARA Birkeland all electric, autonomous container ship, and Hrönn, an autonomous offshore support vessel.

Again the Norwegian government has been a supporter of autonomous systems research. Not only as it supported the creation of the test beds, and was active in the creqtion of the Norwegian Forum for Autonomous Ships 


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