Autonomous Harbor Tug Tested in Singapore

Maritime Activity Reports, Inc.

March 13, 2020

A PSA Marine Tug Master and Thomas monitoring how the smart navigation system maneuvers the harbor tug during sea trials. (Photo: Wärtsilä)

A PSA Marine Tug Master and Thomas monitoring how the smart navigation system maneuvers the harbor tug during sea trials. (Photo: Wärtsilä)

A 27-meter harbor tug equipped with autonomous navigation capabilities has been put through its paces at the Port of Singapore, demonstrating functions such as smart navigation and collision avoidance which are key to the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore's (MPA) goal to enable autonomous ship operations within the world’s busiest transshipment hub.

The IntelliTug project, led by technology provider Wärtsilä and marine services firm PSA Marine, is a collaboration with classification society Lloyd’s Register, the Technology Center for Offshore and Marine Singapore (TCOMS), and co-funded by MPA's Maritime Innovation and Technology (MINT) Fund.

As part of the first ever commercial Maritime Autonomous Surface Ship (MASS) trials in Port of Singapore waters, PSA Polaris, a harbor tug owned and operated by PSA Marine, has been fit with dual azimuth thruster controls as well as a sensor suite, including Wärtsilä’s RS24 near-field high resolution radar and Wärtsilä’s Dynamic Positioning (DP) system, to enable autonomous capabilities. Data collection via the sensors has been ongoing since the start of the project in conjunction with the development of a collision avoidance algorithm.

During the sea trials in September 2019, a new smart navigation system developed during the project in cooperation with PSA Marine’s Tug Masters was used to select destinations for the hundreds of test cases carried out. The system allows the user to easily see the routes plotted, with the avoidance of collisions, in real-time. The smart navigation system also sends track and speed commands to the DP system, which drives the vessel along the route safely at varying speeds up to 10 knots. These maneuvers are expected to follow set behaviors and meet success criteria to reach the destination.

At all times, the PSA Marine Tug Masters were able to determine if the tests were safe to continue and had full control to abort testing at any time where required.

Screenshot of the smart navigation system’s development platform co-created with the Tug Masters. (Photo: Wärtsilä)

The test run verified the IntelliTug’s capability to avoid a variety of obstacles, including virtual and real-life moving vessels, and are the first using the MPA MASS regulatory sandbox, which has been established to facilitate the testing of MASS and other autonomous technologies in a safe and controlled environment within the Port of Singapore.

The trials are part of MPA’s MASS initiative, which aims to accelerate the industry’s R&D capability in this field, and validate new MASS-related concepts of operations and technologies. This would enable technology developers, the research community, and maritime stakeholders to capture future MASS-related opportunities.

“It is critical that we prepare the Port of Singapore for MASS. With MPA’s MASS regulatory sandbox, I am glad that Singapore can contribute to the sea trials and eventual adoption of MASS. We will be happy to share our MASS experience with other ports and coastal administrations,” said Captain M Segar, Assistant Chief Executive (Operations) of MPA.

Before sea trials commenced, system integration and digital testing began with the use of Wärtsilä’s autonomous ship simulator. TCOMS has carried out further validation of the various data gathered from the sensor suite, as well as real-world performance of the tug through a physics-based digital twin that incorporated the effects of the physical environment faced in the sea trials. Lloyd’s Register has been closely involved throughout the project to support the development of the trials’ safety case, while collaborating on the human factors and technology design processes.

“Wärtsilä has taken a rigorous, staggered approach to the sea trials, first to prove the fundamental safety and accuracy capabilities of the system, and then moving on to real obstacle-free path planning. It has further progressed to more complicated test cases, previously attempted in digital batch testing and digital first-person simulation. The design of the test cases was a collaborative effort involving Tug Masters and a Master Mariner, with close review and continuous refinement with MPA throughout the project,” said Thomas Brightwell, SACA Software Manager, Wärtsilä.

 A PSA Marine Tug Master providing feedback on the smart navigation system during a usability test conducted on Wärtsilä’s autonomous ship simulator. (Photo: Wärtsilä)

“Wärtsilä continues to lead the marine industry’s transformation into a new era of digitization and decarbonization – achieving greater efficiency, improved safety, and better environmental performance through its Smart Marine approach. The IntelliTug project provides a clear picture of the potential that this approach can unlock, to the ultimate benefit of owners and operators everywhere,” said Mervin Ong, Managing Director of Wärtsilä Singapore.

“PSA Marine is constantly innovating to redefine the capabilities of our tugs. The achievement seen in the IntelliTug project is a testament that with strong partnership, alignment of purpose and the courage to innovate, ideas can be turned into reality. With the incorporation of feedback and experience from our tug masters, the smart technology developed in the IntelliTug project augments our tug masters’ situational awareness and amplifies their capabilities. We will continue to work closely with the stakeholders and look forward to future developments of the project,” said Peter Chew, Managing Director of PSA Marine.

Wärtsilä and PSA Marine will continue development work on the IntelliTug and its systems throughout 2020, working toward continuous deployment of smart capabilities in real-life harbor craft operations to complement and enhance the capabilities and experience of human tug masters.

Participants from Wärtsilä, PSA Marine and MPA onboard the IntelliTug during autonomous trials. (Photo: Wärtsilä)

Maritime Reporter E-News subscription

Maritime Reporter E-News is the maritime industry's largest circulation and most authoritative ENews Service, delivered to your Email five times per week

Subscribe for Maritime Reporter E-News