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An everyday situation, two ships in a crossing situation applying collision avoidance. How will such a situaion look like in more automated shipping? Are you a mariner and would you like to support us in our research? Please fill in the form below than:

#shipping #maritime #transportation #automation #risk #safety

Building new Autonomous Functions and Algorithms

When looking at a risk based approach, all new more automated or digitised functions that ships will carry, need to result in at least the same safety level as today’s human-based functions. Therefore, the approach of automated meetings can be based on todays traffic scenarios in the first place. Below you will find a speed-up reply of how the Ljusterö ferry is meeting other vessels by today, keeping safe distances. These distances are not specified in the COLREG:s but are clearly visible. Close Quarter Situations are avoided by staying at the quay side and wait, slowing down and smaller turns.

Research Hypothesis

Navigating vessels with a higher degree of automation has implicit consequences for how algorithms and vessels must be able to function. The analogy to the automotive industry is the slow-moving autonomous cars / buses to reduce the risk of collision with people.
– Can the system perceive the situation correctly?
– Can the system make the right decision based on the right situation?
The result will then be for shipping:
– Autonomous vessels must always be able to be the “weakest” link, the one who can avoid critical situations
– The vessels must have high redundancy in many systems, not just in machinery.
– Most systems will be safety-critical and require specific regulations
– There must be special test methodologies to be able to approve subsystems and entire vessels
– Shore centers/ control rooms must be available that can take over controls quickly, ie there must be standardized ways to connect to the vessels and get a situational awareness/ picture
– Restrictions on port calls, Port of refuge, point of no return, etc will differ from todays’ approach.
– Detecting corresponding levels of safety is a challenge.

Project kick-off

The project has been successfully kicked-off in Göteborg by the conortium. Project plan, milestones and scope where discussed. First steps for the project activities were set and regular meetings established.

The reference group has been started during March as well.


Autonomous Ships and their Testing

Studies that have been performed so far and ship owners have identified the COLREG regulations as one of the main challenges when it comes to more autonomous shipping. There are gaps in the regulations that needs to be handled as well as the unknown Unknowns shown above, affecting future rules. At the same time the COLREGS will have an impact on all dependent systems when it comes to redundancy, availability and reliability of the components, as all these components will be safety critical. An example relates to the communication link that so far has not been standardized, the link does not have the appropriate bandwidth to transfer the required amount of data and where todays legal requirements for availability (99%) might not be sufficient for the smart vessels.

In order to set the appropriate requirements, no relevant risk-based study has been performed. No studies have been published so far covering the complexity of COLREGs and smart ships. The “Guidance to COLREG” [Cockcroft and Lameijer, 2003] states that most, if not all of the existing techniques do not scale well to multiple target ships and multiple COLREGs rules such as rules 2, 8, 13-17 and usually one objective can be considered only when using these techniques. In addition, Hu [Hu, 2017] states, that none of the proposed methods consider non-compliant vessels i.e. vessels that are in breach of COLREGs. Therefore, special attention needs to be paid to situational awareness and risk assessment, particularly when the target ship is in breach of the COLREGs rules defined by the International Maritime Organisation. The MAXCMAS project performed by Rolls Royce, Lloyd’s Register, Warsash Maritime Academy, Queen’s University Belfast and Atlas Elektronik used simulations as a tool of developing algorithms but not using risk assessment as the prevailing method for ensuring compliance to regulations providing no evidence on subsequent requirements on safety critical systems.

Demonstration in digitization, automation and sea traffic management are particularly important areas where in Sweden we have innovation-friendly shipping companies, an industry that is at the forefront of technical solutions and where we have authorities that contribute with domain knowledge, ideas and conditions.

Therefore, new tools need to be developed to identify, capture and evaluate presently unknown risks to form a risk assessment method that encompasses the technical advances in digitalization and automation in shipping. So far, research on autonomous transportation has focused on other parts than the effect of introducing and mixing different levels of automation and only very basic standards have been proposed by classification societies.

Co-financed by



Johannes Hüffmeier, RISE Research Institutes of Sweden