Real-time Telematics in Autonomous Vessels
The development, implementation, and proliferation of autonomous vessels is set to boost the economic growth. The elimination of human operators results in weight savings and improved reliability, lowering fuel consumption and resulting in reduced environmental impact, as compared to typical human-controlled vessels. Furthermore, autonomous vessels will provide better safety by reducing human errors, with crewing costs also decreasing significantly; the latter of which can account for 42% of a ship’s operational expenditures.
Satellite networks provide reliable connectivity for unmanned vessels regardless of geographical location, i.e., users can receive real-time telematics data from autonomous vessels or receive up-to-date performance metrics to optimise vessel performance. Used as the primary solution on small vessels with or without cellular coverage or as a Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) companion for large ships, networked satellites providing real-time telematics remain core to highly reliable communications, data collection, and monitoring of autonomous vessels.
Telematics is a disruptive technology that can be applied to all aspects of the mobility sector that utilise information technology and communication protocols to send, receive, and store data. Data is securely delivered and received over wireless networks and remote connectivity is established using an in-vehicle/vessel electronic device or smartphone. Although telematics is a relatively new concept, it was conceived in the late 20th century but was underutilised due to the high investment cost for infrastructure development and a lack of consumer demand at the time. The surge in popularity of connected autonomous mobility, however, has provided a purpose for the implementation of telematics.
Some of the key benefits of telematics for autonomous vessels include navigation, safety, vessel performance, visibility, and connectivity, and finally, reduced administrative costs. Telematics can provide real-time information and turn-by-turn navigation assistance, often reducing shipping times significantly. Furthermore, since supply chains have become increasingly complex as the global e-commerce sector has grown, inefficiencies at each stage of shipping must be mitigated to improve profit margins. Examples of where telematics can be deployed to improve efficiencies are unused container slots which account for almost 10% of total sailing, inconsistent scheduling, empty container transit, and other factors that cost the shipping sector billions of dollars each year. Shipping businesses are now using telematic technologies to collect, analyse, and visualise data that might improve freight transportation speed by forecasting and avoiding bottlenecks. Additionally, telematics assists in the collection and visualisation of data that would otherwise be lost or fragmented.
Innovations in Real-time Telematics for Autonomous Vessels
Iridium plays a key role in increasing safety at sea by enabling the global usage of Unmanned Surface Vessels (USV), Autonomous Surface Vessels (ASV), Unmanned Undersea Vehicles (UUV), and Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) for a wide variety of applications and scenarios. The 66 crosslinked satellites of Iridium operate in Low-Earth Orbit (LEO), allowing for rapid communications to autonomous vessels and shorter data transmission channels for real-time data collection and remote management (telematics). Since Iridium’s LEO satellites are closer to Earth, autonomous vessels maintain sight even when confronted with barriers at sea, resulting in a pervasive, consistent network experience for all users.
ABB Ability Marine Pilot Control is a cutting-edge technology that is now being used by several marine vessel manufacturers and will serve as a stepping-stone into the future of autonomous shipping. A telematics-based vessel management and control system capable of replacing standard systems designed for unconnected operations is required for autonomous shipping. ABB’s Marine Pilot products are designed to sense and interpret the environment, provide greater awareness and solutions for any condition, therefore enabling safe trajectories and optimal ship control. For safer, more efficient operations, the operator is given a complete real-time situational overview, unique awareness, and increased predictive control.
A non-profit Organisation for Ocean Research, ProMare, is developing a fully autonomous, unmanned ship that will replicate the historic voyage from Plymouth, UK, to Plymouth, USA, using IBM’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) and edge computing technologies. The autonomous vessel will be able to update its course to stay safe and avoid collisions through the use of real-time telematics. Throughout its journey, it will collect telematics data which will be communicated to operators in real-time. The autonomous vessel also features similar navigation components to other ships such as onboard radar, sonar, Global Positioning System (GPS), Automatic Identification System (AIS), and weather stations. The AI ‘Captain,’ operates in conjunction with several other advanced systems. For example, it features many on-board digital cameras that feed into the ship’s computer vision system which is powered by IBM Maximo Visual Inspection software.
Avikus, a subsidiary of the Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) Group specialising in autonomous navigation systems for ships, will engage with the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) on real-world trials of autonomous ship technologies in 2022. To facilitate deployment, specialised real-time telematics regarding safety and navigation will be delivered using several satellites and IoT approaches.
The Future of Real-time Telematics for Autonomous Vessels
The global marine telematics market was valued at US$6.80 million in 2018 and is expected to reach US$29.95 million by 2026, growing at a 21.3% Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) between 2019 and 2026. The commercial sector was the greatest revenue contributor by application type in 2018, accounting for US$5.3 million, and is expected to reach US$23.0 million by 2026, showing a CAGR of 20.9% during the projected period.
As can be seen, telematics is already having a significant impact on transportation, but with advances in IoT, connectivity, and sensor technology, the future potential is even greater. 5G connections will allow for faster transmission of larger volumes of data, improving the real-time telematics communications. In addition, more advanced cameras and LiDAR sensors will improve the affordability of autonomous vessels and greatly improve safety.
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