At the turn of the millennium the concept of driverless cars was pure science fiction. Now they’re a fact, with pilot vehicles clocking up the miles in the US, while companies such as Google, Tesla and Uber refine their propositions, strategies and technology. Driverless trucks are already working within the mining industry, while driverless trains transport both people and raw materials in locations worldwide.
Why should shipping be any different? The simple answer is: it won’t.
The first steps forward
It is unlikely that these futuristic ships will sail off the drawing board and into our hearts. People need time to become accustomed to the idea of self-steering steel giants, while the industry must develop the right regulatory framework, undertake stringent testing, and establish consensus about the best way forward.
But these issues must be seen against the context of potential benefits. Smarter ships, empowered by data sharing and seamlessly connected to onshore teams, will optimise performance, reduce costs, lower emissions and, crucially, address the number one cause of maritime incidents and accidents – human error. The arguments in favour of autonomous ships are convincing enough for development to be already underway, with e-navigation as an essential part.
Charting the route
E-navigation is so much more than digital charts. Using data as a facilitator, it delivers real economic advantages for the maritime industry by connecting decision makers, driving efficiency, enhancing safety and optimising operations for vessels, fleets and entire businesses.
Autonomous vessels are a natural step forward for the e-navigation discipline, with connected, digitised ships that perform with optimal efficiency, safety and security. Using the latest digital innovations, ENCs and the ECDIS can be used as a base upon which layers of information and functionality can be built. Furthermore, the sharing of data between vessels, maritime authorities and office-based teams enables both insights and overviews that give owners and operators complete control. People and assets can now be more connected than ever before, and this is central to the development of autonomous vessels.
Driving maritime development
NAVTOR’s expertise in e-navigation and data sharing lead to the company’s involvement in ENABLE, an EU-funded project that aims to prove, verify and validate the safety of autonomous vehicles of every type. NAVTOR has been enlisted to represent the maritime industry. During the project NAVTOR will investigate the concept of ‘shore-based bridges’ and test the validity of the software element of a remote bridge concept. Built on continuous data sharing between vessels and land, the project aim to transfer key navigation functions from the crew on board to office-based teams. In other words, this means those on land will be able to navigate vessels at sea.
It is not likely that all types of vessels will evolve into becoming fully autonomous and unmanned. Ferries and liners with predictable sailing patterns probably will, but the cruise business, for example, would face a much tougher transition to autonomy. But whether they switch to full autonomy or not, e-navigation will soon become central to the voyages of all seagoing vessels. And that is a science fact.
Specialist ship owner, operator and manager GC Rieber has signed a fleet-wide agreement with NAVTOR for a total vessel navigation solution, spanning both paper and digital deliveries. NAVTOR, a global leader in e-navigation technology and services, will now install products throughout GC Rieber’s portfolio of advanced seismic and offshore ships, enhancing overall fleet efficiency, safety and cost control.
The agreement is far reaching in scope. It covers the delivery of all digital and paper charts and publications, provided on a Pay As You Sail (PAYS) basis, alongside products and services including weather and route optimisation services, navigational management solution NavTracker, and the installation of NavBox units. These, one of NAVTOR’s latest innovations, connect with ECDIS and automatically download the latest navigational data without navigators having to check for updates.
“We have a long-standing objective of simplifying tasks for navigators and enhancing efficiency for owners and operators,” comments NAVTOR CEO Tor Svanes. “This is encapsulated by our latest agreement with GC Rieber Shipping.
“By offering them a single concept across their entire fleet we can ensure time and cost savings – with a seamless distribution of charts and publications and minimal administration. This dramatically cuts workloads, ensures regulatory compliance and safety, and gives land-based teams a complete overview of chart usage, management and expenditure. By choosing PAYS, the team only pay for the charts they actually use, while all are available for planning purposes.”
He continues: “Here we can see the potential of e-navigation realised – connecting all vessels, navigators and management teams on one platform for optimal routes, operations and overall business efficiency. In the shipping climate of today, and tomorrow, it makes perfect sense.”
GC Rieber operates a fleet of nine vessels - including some of the industry’s most advanced seismic ships - with installation of all NAVTOR’s products and services expected by the end of 2016.
Geir Rasmussen, Marine Superintendent at the Bergen-based business, said of the decision to use NAVTOR as a single navigational vendor: “As a shipowner and operator we are focused on maximising both efficiency and the quality of our operations – something that all our customers and stakeholders benefit from. The NAVTOR solution fits perfectly within that framework, uniting all vessels with a single solution that pays real dividends.
“NAVTOR is established, stable and high quality in its deliverables, so we feel confident consolidating all our navigation needs with them. What’s more the team is innovative – constantly striving for new solutions and the means to deliver added value. This continual process of improvement is important to us and we look forward to benefiting from, and contributing to, their further e-navigation developments.”.
From the press:
NAVTOR is aiming to re-imagine the mandatory process of vessel passage planning to help navigators optimise both their time and voyage safety. The Norwegian headquartered e-navigation specialist has launched a new passage planning module for its NavStation software, allowing navigators to effortlessly create the required documentation while planning vessel voyages.
In another first for NAVTOR - which launched both the world’s first type approved Pay As You Sail ENC service and, in NavStation, the first digital chart table – the new development marks a breakthrough in vessel administration. It automatically logs all necessary passage plan information into the plan as a voyage is mapped out, with type specific formulas available for different vessels to ensure all relevant details are captured. Once this stage is complete the document can then simply be printed out and signed by the captain, ready for inspection by port state authorities and other relevant organisations.
“It’s all part of our on-going mission to simplify tasks for navigators and enhance efficiency for shipowners and operators,” states NAVTOR CEO Tor Svanes. “Until now, passage planning has been done manually, with the emphasis on the navigator to input all the necessary, correct data.
“This takes that entire burden off their hands, digitalising the process and ensuring safety through automatic checks that help reduce the chance of human error. It’s easier for them, while saving significant man-hours per vessel, adding up to real time and cost efficiencies for owners fleet-wide. It’s just another step forward to realising the huge potential of e-navigation.”
The passage planning module is one of numerous options now available on the NavStation, which, using ENC’s as its foundation, overlays all the data navigators require – such as weather data, tidal information, digital publications, and other services like piracy updates – on a single computer screen, or ‘gigapad’ touch screen device. This helps put navigators in complete control, with all essential, updated information in one place, at their fingertips.
This latest development comes as NAVTOR celebrates its fifth birthday. Since its launch, and the subsequent release of its ENC service in 2012, the firm has established itself as a global leader in e-navigation – bringing a series of products to market that streamline and simplify tasks for navigators, while enhancing safety, security and efficiency for shipowners and operators.