The technology group Wärtsilä has taken a notable step towards realising the full commercial potential of autonomous vessels. Following the latest and most advanced testing of its SmartDock auto-docking system, which included giving industry representatives and customers first-hand experience as passengers onboard the test vessel, the company has secured the first order for the system. This makes SmartDock the world’s first commercially available auto-docking solution.
By automating docking procedures, the Wärtsilä SmartDock system mitigates potential human errors resulting from ship officers having to perform these technical manoeuvres many times a day. This is especially important on, for example, larger ferries that must enter and leave tight docking spaces, where significant damage can be caused by forceful collisions with the dock walls. Efficiency and safety are, therefore, considerably increased.
The Captain can select the destination and with a simple click of the “sail” button, the SmartDock system takes over. The ship then leaves the dock, manoeuvres out of the harbour, sails to the next port of call, manoeuvres into the harbour and docks alongside the quay, all without human intervention.
“The SmartDock solution is the culmination of decades of extensive research and testing by Wärtsilä in automation technology. Our system draws on similar automation and positioning technology used by oil rig support vessels to maintain proximity to the rig in the toughest sea environments. This gives us absolute confidence in SmartDock’s ability to meet the urgent commercial need to provide the safest possible docking for commuter ferries,” says Joonas Makkonen, Vice President, Voyage Solutions, Wärtsilä.
There is significant demand from customers: “The SmartDock solution offers improved safety and efficiency for existing vessels,” says Jakob Steffensen, Head of innovation and technology, DFDS, a Danish international shipping and logistics company that attended Wärtsilä’s demonstration of the product. “More importantly, it represents an important part of the solutions needed to power the next generation of vessels.”
The successful sea trials were carried out onboard the Folgefonn, an 85-metre long ferry owned by Norwegian operator Norled. The testing also included operating the automatic 180-degree rotational turn of the vessel, as well as Wärtsilä Guidance Marine’s CyScan AS with GeoLock technology, a crucial cyber-security enhancing secondary position sensor, which enables the approach to the berth to continue even if the GPS signal is lost.
“We continue to be impressed with the Wärtsilä SmartDock system, which is unique in that it works hand-in-hand with the Captain to ensure the best performance on every docking, every day. It’s the perfect collaboration between an experienced crew and technology,” says Inge Andre Utåker, Regional director, Norled.