Dutch company RH Marine has started a three-year research in order to let ships sail autonomously in a safe way.
The study aims to develop algorithms which enable unmanned self-propelled vessels to sail efficiently from A to B, which recognize dangerous situations and learn to avoid these dangers.
The research is part of the larger European project Safer Autonomous Systems (SAS) under the direction of the KU Leuven (BE), in which the safety of various autonomous systems is being researched. A consortium of companies participates in the project, including MIRA, Bosch, Airbus, Jaguar and Lloyd's Register. RH Marine, together with the Dutch maritime research institute MARIN, focuses on the safety of unmanned self-propelled vessels. The project is funded by the EU Horizon 2020 program, which couples and stimulates research and innovation.
The major aim of the SAS project is to establish confidence in the safety of autonomous systems. For this objective, RH Marine's will develop three different algorithms. The first is to optimize the way from A to B for autonomous vessels, so that they sail as efficiently as possible at the lowest possible cost. This algorithm must be able to operate an entire fleet. In addition, the research must lead to an algorithm that, based on the data from sensors, can develop a complete situational awareness, which can assess actual situations and learn to recognize hazards. The third algorithm must avoid those hazards.
The next three years a PhD student will be appointed, who will work on the three algorithms together with the RH Marine development team. The researcher's job includes short internships at KU Leuven, MARIN and Lloyd's Register.
SAS is a so-called Early-Stage Research (ESR). The ultimate goal is to prove by model-based safety-analysis techniques that the behavior of an autonomous vessel remains safe under all possible conditions.
Several companies in the world are engaged in similar projects for autonomous sailing, for instance in studies for self-propelled container vessels.