Rolls-Royce launches autonomous ferry off Finnish coast in one-way demo
Engine maker Rolls-Royce and ferry operator Finferries claim to have launched the first fully autonomous ferry, for a one-way trip off the coast of Finland.
Finferries’s car ferry, called Falco, used shipping and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to from Rolls-Royce to navigate autonomously the trip between Parainen and Nauvo, in the archipelago south of the city of Turku, in Finland.
The return journey was conducted under remote control.
The ferry carried 80 guests for the trip, which the two companies involved said was the first of its kind anywhere in the world. The vessel used a number of sensors to detect objects and new AI to respond in real time to the sensor inputs and avoid the objects in the water.
The Falco, a 54-metre double-ended car ferry, also berthed with an autonomous navigation system. No human crew were involved in navigating the crossing, but a captain monitored its progress from remote operating centre on land, some 50 kilometres away in Turku city centre.
The Falco, with twin thrusters from Rolls-Royce, entered service in 1993. Its autonomous driving technology has been added. New sensors on the vessel build a detailed picture of its surroundings, in real time and with a level of accuracy beyond that of the human eye.
During the crossing, the sensor images were relayed to the captain in Turku in time to take charge of the vessel if necessary. Rolls-Royce said the demonstration marked a “huge step forward in the journey towards autonomous shipping”.
“The project has been a… showcase to the world how ‘ship intelligence’ technology can bring great benefits in the safe and efficient operation of ships,” said Mikael Makinen, president of Rolls-Royce’s commercial marine division.
“This marks our most significant milestone so far. Today’s demonstration proves that the autonomous ship is not just a concept, but something that will transform shipping as we know it.”
Mats Rosin, chief executive at Finferries, said “Maritime history has been made on the Parainen-Nauvo-route, once again – first with our world-renowned hybrid vessel Elektra, and now Falco as the world’s first autonomous ferry.
“Our main goal in this cooperation has been on increasing safety in marine traffic as this is beneficial for both the environment and our passengers. But we are also equally excited about how this demonstration opens the door to the new possibilities of autonomous shipping and safety.”
Rolls-Royce has clocked 400 hours of sea trials in the waters around Turku. These have included testing of collision avoidance and auto-docking. The latter system, from Rolls-Royce, enables the vessel to alter course and speed, by itself, as it approaches the quay and dock without human intervention.