November 28, 2016 8:10 AM, EST

Rolls-Royce Partners With Finnish Research Center to Develop Autonomous Cargo Ships


British transportation giant Rolls-Royce has signed a partnership with Finland’s VTT Technical Research Center Ltd. “to design, test and validate the first generation of remote and autonomous ships,” according to statements from the two companies.

The development of autonomous ships is attracting increasing attention, particularly in the Scandinavian countries. The announcement by Rolls-Royce and VTT follows a move by the city of Trondheim, Norway, to establish an autonomous ship testing zone in its fjord.

“Rolls-Royce is pioneering the development of remote-controlled and autonomous ships and believes a remote-controlled ship will be in commercial use by the end of the decade. The company is applying technology, skills and experience from across its businesses to this development,” Rolls-Royce said in a statement.

For its part, the Finnish firm highlighted its “deep knowledge of ship simulation and extensive expertise in the development and management of safety-critical and complex systems in demanding environments such as nuclear safety.” VTT said that its development work would include physical tests such as model and tank testing, with data analytics and computer visualization.


VTT also will lead development of the communications system for the autonomous vessels, due to its experience in developing Finland’s first 5G test network for the country’s telecommunications sector and development of Wi-Fi mesh networks.

“VTT will also use field research to incorporate human factors into safe ship design,” the research center said.

“Remotely operated ships are a key development project for Rolls-Royce Marine, and VTT is a reliable and innovative partner for the development of a smart ship concept," said Karno Tenovuo, vice president for ship intelligence at Rolls-Royce. "This collaboration is a natural continuation of the earlier User Experience for Complex Systems project, where we developed totally new bridge and remote control systems for shipping.”

“Rolls-Royce is a pioneer in remotely controlled and autonomous shipping," VTT Executive Vice President Erja Turunen added. "Our collaboration strengthens the way we can integrate and leverage VTT’s expertise in simulation and safety validation, including the industrial Internet of Things, to develop new products and, in the future, enable us to develop new solutions for new areas of application as well.”

Among other advantages, autonomous ships could drastically reduce accidents, Oskar Levander, Rolls-Royce vice president for marine innovation, pointed out in a commentary for Port Technology.

“According to a report published by insurance company Allianz in 2012, between 75% and 96% of marine accidents are a result of ‘human error,’ ” Levander said. "This is often as a result of fatigue. Remote-controlled and autonomous ships will reduce the risk of injury and even death amongst ship crews, as well as the potential loss of, or damage to, valuable assets.”

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