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Remotely piloted ferry trialled in Helsinki

The ferry departed from the city’s market square, Kauppatori, and was wirelessly operated by the captain

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The ice-class Suomenlinna ferry was remotely piloted through a test area near Helsinki harbour
The ice-class Suomenlinna ferry was remotely piloted through a test area near Helsinki harbour

Helsinki City Transport and technology and automation company, ABB, have completed what claims to be the world’s first autonomous shipping trial featuring an existing passenger ferry.

 

The ice-class Suomenlinna II ferry was retrofitted with ABB’s new dynamic positioning system, ABB Ability Marine Pilot Control. It departed from Helsinki’s market square, Kauppatori, and Captain Lasse Heinonen wirelessly operated the vessel through a pre-selected area of Helsinki harbour.

 

Autonomous breakthrough

 

The two organisations believe the breakthrough trial represents a crucial step toward increasing the maritime industry’s acceptance of autonomous operation systems. Autonomous solutions are expected to transform international shipping in the coming decades as the industry recovers from the downturn caused by the 2008 financial crisis.

 

Global demand for maritime transport has grown by 30 per cent over the past decade, according to the International Chamber of Shipping data, while more than 10 billion tons of cargo are now transported by sea every year.

 

Speaking after the voyage, Captain Lasse Heinonen said: “The progress we have made with the remote trial has been remarkable. I believe we are on the right track to exploring further possibilities of this technology as we move forward.”

“Autonomous does not mean unmanned. As vessels become more electric, digital and connected than ever before, ABB is able to equip seafarers with existing solutions that augment their skillsets”

The trial took place during the vessel’s off hours, away from shore with no passengers aboard, in an area free of other vessels. While it is now equipped with the new dynamic positioning system, the vessel will continue to operate via a set of conventional onboard controls, with the remote mode deployed during the trial only. Research and development will continue with the ferry and her crew.

 

“Autonomous does not mean unmanned. As vessels become more electric, digital and connected than ever before, ABB is able to equip seafarers with existing solutions that augment their skillsets. In this way, we are enhancing the overall safety of marine operations,” said Juha Koskela, managing director at ABB’s marine & ports unit.

 

Suomenlinna II was originally built in 2004 and normally voyages from Helsinki to Suomenlinna fortress, the UNESCO World Heritage site on a nearby island. It is fitted with ABB’s ice-breaking Azipod electric propulsion system. Additionally, the ferry was retrofitted with ABB Ability Marine Pilot Visions situational awareness solution in 2017. Suomenlinna II operates year-round, undisturbed by the harsh winter conditions that affect all other modes of transport in the Helsinki region.

 

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