How smart autonomy can help solve today’s shipping challenges

In this E-Book we refer to “smart autonomy,” which means moving towards autonomous operations in the future, by finding targeted autonomous solutions that solve specific problems today.

This approach allows for further evolution as needed and provides the ability to respond to changing regulatory environments related to emerging standards for autonomous operations. The end goal is not necessarily fully autonomous unmanned vessels. Instead, the goal is to harness existing—or co‑create—modular autonomous solutions that solve specific problems and make commercial sense today, while offering the extensibility to install additional solutions in the future, allowing our clients to tailor their own pathway to autonomy.

The types of concrete challenges that autonomous solutions can help solve are summarised below

Increased safety

Autonomous solutions have the potential to reduce the incidence of human error and therefore the number of mistakes and accidents. Removing humans from the equation or giving them the tools to enhance their capabilities for carrying out repetitive routine tasks improves performance and safety. Such changes also allow the crew to focus on more important tasks and key decision-making duties. By increasing situational awareness of what is happening around the vessel, these solutions also increase safety for those onboard surrounding vessels. This will be particularly important in areas where incidents are most common, such as busy ports.

Decarbonisation and fuel savings

Autonomous solutions support efforts to sail in the most fuel-efficient manner, which leads to both economic and environmental benefits. This approach builds on earlier digitalisation efforts which provide actionable insights on fleet operations, squeezing more efficiency out of existing assets and operations and fostering a new operating culture and ways of working.

Autonomous solutions improve efficiency by allowing vessels to reliably and consistently replicate precise and safe vessel performance. For example, we’ve seen that for ships on shorter voyages, reducing the average docking time by a single minute can have a significant impact on the overall fuel consumption (reducing it by two to three per cent per minute on a two-hour voyage). For longer voyages, fuel savings of 10 % or more are possible through route and speed optimisation, and using autonomy solutions can help ensure a more consistent level of performance across vessels and voyages in a fleet.

Meeting crew challenges

In the future, there may be an opportunity to operate with fewer crew, which will be important in order to make up for the projected shortfalls in finding experienced, skilled crew as mentioned earlier. This is also important in the context of initiatives that will increase the demand for shipping, such as the EU’s target to move more cargo by rail and sea instead of road, which may well increase the number of ships needing to be crewed. Autonomous solutions may also allow redeployment of crew, for example, if ships can be steered remotely from land‑based centres instead of from the bridge. Re‑deployment onshore can make the maritime profession more attractive, but will require re-training. For this reason, high-quality simulators will become more important and useful in assisting with testing, training and transitioning to autonomous solutions.

More efficient vessel design

Autonomous solutions are already being retrofitted to existing vessels, integrating sensors, data collection, processing and cabling. Doing this in a new build enables a more holistic ‘digital by design’ philosophy for vessels. Looking further ahead, as the nature of crew deployment, the role of shoreside responsibilities and the usage of vessels changes, vessel design can also be optimised. This means naval architects will have more freedom when allocating space to cargo, and integrating solutions for maximum efficiency and safety. For example, a key change will be enabled by enhanced situational awareness—when operators no longer need a direct line of sight, this will impact vessel design in terms of bridge placement.

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