The Highland Chieftain, an 80m platform supply vessel, was retrofitted for the test
The Highland Chieftain, an 80m platform supply vessel, was retrofitted for the test

Drone ship controlled from 8,000km away

5 September 2017

A technology company has successfully piloted a ship in the North Sea from its headquarters in California.

Wärtsilä, the US based maritime and oil technology group, remotely controlled the ship from a distance of 8,000km and conducted a series of manoeuvres using an automated positioning system and manual joystick controls.

The test vehicle, an 80m platform supply vessel called Highland Chieftain, was retrofitted with the remote control system and communicated with the control centre though standard bandwidth satellites.

Andrea Morgante, head of digital at Wärtsilä Marine Solutions, said one of the first hurdles to intelligent shipping was overcoming bandwidth and security limitations. “This test provides a clear indication that we are well on the way to achieving this,” he said.

Roger Holm, president of Wärtsilä Marine Solutions, said: “The future Smart Marine ecosystem will involve connecting smart vessels with smart ports to enable an even more efficient use of resources.”

Wärtsilä is one of a number of companies exploring remote-operated shipping vessels, and players in the industry are working towards developing drone ships of varying levels of autonomy.

Last year the Advanced Autonomous Waterborne Applications Initiative, a research partnership led by Rolls Royce, envisioned future ships being completely autonomous while out at sea, and becoming remotely operated when entering a busy harbour. 

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