VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland is developing a new steering technology for the remote-monitored and controlled autonomous ships of the future.

The new Apilot technology will be designed for navigation systems and ship autopilots to facilitate the automatic manoeuvring of ships.

The ships of the future are expected to be controlled primarily by artificial intelligence, but these autonomous unmanned vessels will require monitoring and controlling on demand by land-based professionals.

VTT senior scientist Jussi Martio said: “VTT has deep knowledge of autonomous ship research, concerning especially reliability and safety topics.

“Such special expertise has now led to the development of navigation systems for autonomous ships.”

The Apilot autopilot is currently under development by VTT and features three modes, namely 'track', 'heading' and slow 'joystick' control for docking situations.

In the track mode, Apilot steers the ship along a previously planned route, with the autopilot switching to heading mode if it detects another vessel that must be avoided.

This mode allows Apilot to avoid the other vessel with a small change in the ship’s direction, and the autopilot then returns to track mode after avoiding the collision.

"VTT has deep knowledge of autonomous ship research; such special expertise has now led to the development of navigation systems for autonomous ships."

In the joystick mode, control and propulsion equipment are adjusted to low-speed manoeuvrings so that Apilot to allow the ship into the desired operating mode.

The autopilot ensures that the ship remains within a set distance from the planned route under all circumstances.

It also gives a warning in case of the ship exceeding the pre-programmed speed limit, when remote control must be taken of the vessel.

VTT has also studied interaction between humans and technology in maritime transport and has developed new concepts for the bridges and remote shore control centres of future autonomous ships.

Image: Ship simulator. Photo: courtesy of VTT.