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Project hopes to bring autonomous boats into busy waterways

Joseph Flaig

(Credit: iStock)
(Credit: iStock)

A £1.2m project hopes to cut the huge portion of marine accidents caused by human factors by bringing unmanned ships into busy routes.

It is hoped that the Shared Waterspace Autonomous Navigation by Satellite (Swans) scheme, funded by Innovate UK, will enable autonomous boats to enter congested waterways out of sight of land for the first time.

Collaborating with ASV Global and Deimos Space UK, engineering consultants BMT hope to address the challenge of how traditional manned vessels can co-exist with autonomous vehicles. Deimos will investigate how existing and future satellites can contribute to the task for “over-the-horizon” operations.

“The root cause of almost 90% of accidents at sea stems from human factors,” said BMT managing director Phil Thompson to Professional Engineering. “Removing or minimising the human factor in operations will ultimately improve safety and cost efficiency. It will also take out the risks of humans operating in often extreme and hazardous environments.”

Autonomous vessels largely use automatic identification systems to avoid collisions but remain at risk of colliding with vessels or objects not using such systems, said Thompson. “Others rely upon waterspace management and the actions of other water users to avoid collisions – neither of which go far enough in reducing the risk of a collision occurring. This funding is critical in helping us to overcome this barrier by developing the first ever commercially ready, safe over-the-horizon operating system for congested waterspaces.”

Focusing on main objectives including satellite sensing and complex simulation training, the project could “open up a multitude of applications” for autonomous boats in busy areas, said ASV marketing director Vince Dobbin.

“Only by bridging this knowledge gap can we accelerate the wider adoption of unmanned systems and increase trust in their feasibility by mariners around the world,” added Thompson.

Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily reflect the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

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