For vessels such as cruise ships, the industry’s drive towards autonomous ships will lead to technology being used on the bridge, as a navigational safety tool for collision avoidance, etc, a leading expert said.
It will not displace the human element, Capt Eero Lehtovaara (pictured), ABB’s regulatory affairs stressed during a webinar examining the so called ‘autonomous’ ship.
The IMO is currently involved in a scoping exercise – looking at the rules in place, rather than developing new rules for autonomous ships, it was explained during the introduction.
ABB has introduced what it calls the Intelligent Shipping Initiative. Capt Lehtovaara kept his talk on navigational issues and said it was a question of data management rather than autonomy and how you keep ‘the human in the loop’.
Another question to be addressed was how to support the equipment and the person on the bridge and share the operational burden between a human and a machine. He explained that within SOLAS there are already mandatory sensor packages, involving ECDIS, Radar, GPS, AIS and Gyro, for example.
He said that one the key questions going forward was – who gets to make the decisions- the machine or the human being? It is also a question of confidence in giving the machinery more autonomy to operate both on the bridge and in the engine room.
The technology already exists, he said, but it is a question of regulatory compliance and license to operate using digital technology. Going forward, he thought that everything needed to be undertaken step-by-step in a gradual development, which will probably be partly driven by the market.
He didn’t see the key driver being to reduction of seafarers on board ship. Seafarers will remain for a long time, Capt Lehtovaara said. However, a change in ship operations could be seen with human working patterns being more akin to normal office working hours while a ship is on a sea passage.
The technology still needed to be tested and another key question was – do the customers want the technology?
The regulatory bodies primarily want to see safety when making decisions, hence the drive to maximise safety on board a vessel, such as a cruise ship, he said.