Foto: Kameraer og radar fra arbejdet med udvikling af automatiske løsninger til skibsdriften.

Danish shipping must be autonomous

Tuesday 26 Mar 19


Mogens Blanke
DTU Electrical Engineering
+45 45 25 35 65
Researchers must help Denmark develop the first autonomous ships.

A collaborative project with broad participation from the world of education, universities, and the maritime sector must in the coming years ensure that Denmark leads the way at developing autonomous solutions for maritime traffic.

It is happening as part of the large ShippingLab project, which has just been launched to strengthen Denmark’s position as a maritime powerhouse, and which focuses on increasing the level of digitization, on making Danish shipping autonomous, and on implementing more environment-friendly technology.

The initiatives regarding autonomy are being headed by Professor Mogens Blanke at DTU Electrical Engineering, and continue the research which has been conducted at the university in recent years. Several shipping companies and suppliers to the shipping industry are also participating in the work together with Svendborg International Maritime Academy (SIMAC) and Aalborg University.

“We have a vision of ships being able to operate for periods of time with unmanned bridges, or in special cases without a navigator on board. This can only happen once we have trained our computer algorithms to be just as good as an experienced master,” says Mogens Blanke.

Computers raise levels of awareness and understanding about the surroundings
The work to secure greater autonomy uses electronic lookout aids for ships. It happens via cameras, both in the visible light spectrum and in the infrared field, as well as radar units that monitor the ship’s surroundings.

Information about navigation marks and water depths is used, and the computer tries to predict the course of nearby vessels over a short time span. Based on this, the computer predicts the risk of collision or grounding, which it avoids by planning and executing its own manoeuvres with due diligence.

It is a comprehensive task for a computer, so the focus of DTU’s research and partners is to ensure that the intelligent algorithms are so reliable and robust that they are acceptable to relevant government agencies while winning the confidence of users.

Reliability and robustness will be supported by independently monitoring the autonomous functions. This module will monitor the intelligent automation, and will summon a navigator who is either on board or sitting at a monitoring centre, and who can intervene if the behaviour of the autonomous systems deviates from what is expected.

“It is not enough that our computer algorithms can recognize the various things around the ship–sailing boats, windsurfers, kayaks, etc. The algorithms also need to know how different vessels are likely to behave. Therefore, for example, we have to teach the algorithms the rules of the sea, so that the computer knows how two sailing boats avoid collision when they meet,” explains Mogens Blanke.

Tests on large and medium-sized ships
Over the next three years, researchers will also carry out tests on large and medium-sized ships.

“The project’s research activities focus on gaps in our existing knowledge. By demonstrating solutions in practice, we obtain new and valuable know-how, while the participating companies have an opportunity to showcase their products, which can support their export activities,” says Mogens Blanke.

The research will focus on influencing international standards, so that it will then be possible for Danish suppliers to offer specialized subsystems, certify them, and make it possible to export solutions worldwide.

ShippingLab is supported by Innovation Fund Denmark, the Danish Maritime Fund, A/S D/S Orient’s Fond, and the Lauritzen Fonden as well as by the participating partners.