Autonomous shipping is a topic that raises an equal mixture of support and contention in the maritime industry. Some companies believe that smart technology will improve safety and transform the shipping business, but many shipowners are reluctant to invest in unproven, and what they perceive to be risky, technology.
However, the drive to explore and prove that autonomous ships do have a place in the future industry remains strong and interest in joint approaches to research, test, and demonstrate technologies and services that enable autonomous shipping is increasing.
Take the One Sea autonomous shipping alliance as an example. In recent months, One Sea has attracted a growing number of members, representative of growing industry focus on autonomous shipping.
Established in 2016, One Sea is an open ecosystem that unifies the work of industry leaders with the aim of promoting their common goal of autonomous shipping. The alliance is led by Digital, Internet, Materials & Engineering Co-Creation (DIMECC) with activities funded by participating companies and Business Finland.
In June, satcom giants Inmarsat and NYK Group research subsidiary Monohakobi Technology Institute (MTI) signed up to the alliance as full members. The Royal Institution of Naval Architects (RINA) signed up as an associate member after signing a Memorandum of Understanding. These are big industry players that now join existing members and partners; ABB, Cargotec, Ericsson, Kongsberg Maritime, Tieto, Wärtsilä, Finnpilot Pilotage, RINA, Finnish Marine Industries, Shipbrokers Finland, Finnish Port Association, and Finnish Shipowners’ Association.
Members of this alliance have already pushed the autonomous shipping agenda far and are now working towards the alliance’s goal of establishing an autonomous shipping infrastructure, including a full set of safety rules and technology standards by 2025.
They expedite this with the support of One Sea, with members having complete freedom to innovate and develop their own cost-efficient autonomous ship solutions inside an alliance, which is committed to harmonising technical standards.
A full research programme developed by One Sea continues to expand, with its most recent initiative focusing on autonomous ship piloting arrangements between ports and ships. Finnish regulators have also authorised One Sea to oversee future trials in Jaakonmeri off western Finland – which is the first dedicated autonomous shipping test zone worldwide.
“It is anticipated that as member numbers grow, operating solutions will multiply but members will also work towards integration,” said Päivi Haikkola, One Sea lead. “As an area where public and private interests converge, One Sea can play a special role in the different strands of research, funding, test co-ordination, and results dissemination,” she continued.
Inmarsat vice-president business development Stefano Poli said, “Inmarsat is joining One Sea in recognition of the special value it sees in initiatives that adopt a targeted and goal-based approach to autonomous shipping and its beneficial technologies.”