Wärtsilä has successfully tested remote controlled operation of a platform supply vessel in the North Sea using a satellite link from California.
The tests, which involved driving the vessel through a sequence of manoeuvres using a combination of dynamic positioning (DP) and manual joystick control, were carried out on 21 August in the North Sea in collaboration with GulfMark Offshore, the US-based operator who provided the vessel for the project.
Although the test vessel was in the North Sea, it was navigated remotely, from a Wärtsilä office in San Diego, California, which was 8,000 km away from the ship.
Wärtsilä developed a remote control capability for its DP systems early in 2016, but this was the first test carried out on an offshore vessel. The vessel, Highland Chieftain, is an 80 m platform supply vessel fitted with a Wärtsilä Nacos Platinum package for navigation, automation and DP, as well as a Wärtsilä drives package. Additional software was temporarily added to the DP system to route data over the vessel’s satellite link to the workstation in California.
The tests were carried out using the bandwidth available with a conventional satellite communications system. No land-based technology was used for communication between the vessel and the remote workstation. Retrofitting of the DP software was completed in 30 hours.
The test was conducted in almost four hours, during which the vessel was driven through a series of manoeuvres at high and low speed. All of the test procedures went as planned.
“Wärtsilä is committed to developing technology that enables a smart marine future. In the age of digitalisation, the future smart marine ecosystem will involve connecting ‘smart’ vessels with ‘smart’ ports to enable an even more efficient use of resources. It will also reduce the impact on the climate while enhancing safety,” claimed Wärtsilä Marine Solutions president Roger Holm.
Wärtsilä Marine Solutions head of digital, Andrea Morgante said “One of the most critical hurdles to overcome along the path to the enablement of intelligent shipping is to develop efficient and reliable remote control and monitoring capabilities, taking factors such as bandwidth limitations and cyber security into consideration.
“This test provides a clear indication that we are well on the way to achieving this,” he said, noting that the ship was enabled for remote operation in only a few hours. “At Wärtsilä we are fully engaged in developing intelligent vessels and consider such technology to be vital to maintaining a profitable future for our customers.”
It is anticipated that Wärtsilä’s development of remote access to ships will also enable virtual service solutions for customers needing tuning or testing of their DP systems. The concept could also be used for other technology demonstrations, such as automated docking, the company believes.
“At GulfMark Offshore, we believe that it is important to embrace new technology. If companies are to remain competitive they must look ahead and take advantage of the tremendous development work being done by companies such as Wärtsilä. For this reason, we were very happy to co-operate with Wärtsilä on this exciting project,” said Ashley Robinson, SVP operations at GulfMark.
A video about the tests can be found here.