First ever autonomous vessel trials held in the North Sea by a Dutch consortium

As part of the Autonomous Shipping JIP, which began in November 2017, a unique series of autonomous operations’ trials were prepared in the MARIN bridge simulator and held at sea recently (see also pages 6-8). A number of challenging nautical scenarios were executed to determine how a vessel interacts with seagoing traffic. Johan de Jong & Dimitri van Heel,


utonomous technology is expected to improve safety, reduce operating costs and enhance sustainability.

On the road towards autonomous shipping, companies can adopt technology in support of the crew and that offers operators cost savings and increased operational security and safety. With 17 partners, the Autonomous Shipping JIP ultimately aims to create a national roadmap on autonomous technology, based on the identification of missing technologies. MARIN contributed to the issues of basic collision avoidance, modelling of good seamanship (COLREGS & more) and the safety assessment thereof by benchmark scenario building, simulator use and sea trials.

Research within the project was divided into several work packages executed by MARIN, Delft University of Technology and TNO. The latter performed a study on collection, processing and communication of data, while TU Delft investigated system safety and reliability, functional decomposition and ship design issues.

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Testing on the MARIN bridge simulator The nautical benchmark scenarios were developed by MARIN and tested on our full mission bridge simulator. They examined the ability of a vessel to avoid contact and vessel collisions, whilst applying the rules of the road at sea (COLREGS) and good seamanship. To this end, the autonomous system, (provided by project partner Robosys), was connected to the bridge simulator next to other safety

enhancing systems. These ‘hardware in the loop’ scenarios were then compared by nautical experts with the same ‘captain in the loop’ scenarios, leading to valuable assessment criteria and modifications of the software. At the same time, the simulator tests served as a release protocol for use of the system during trials at sea. Figure 1 shows a typical unrestricted water test scenario of more or less equally sized vessels.

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