Kongsberg demonstrates autonomous vessel operations on Belgium’s inland waterway network

Kongsberg Maritime has announced it has successfully completed a live trial of autonomous shipping technology in Bornem, Belgium.

The test vessel, Zulu 4, an inland waterway barge owned by Blue Line Logistics NV, is equipped for remote-operated and autonomous transport demonstrations for the AUTOSHIP project, which is part of Horizon 2020, an EU research programme.

As part of the test, Zulu 4 manoeuvred and navigated on unrestricted waterways, and it demonstrated berthing and unberthing capability. To achieve this, the vessel was upgraded with onboard control technology, while an onshore remote operation centre (ROC) provided support. A safety crew was onboard the vessel during the test.

The Zulu 4 completed a 16.5-kilometre circuit starting from a port in Niel on the Rupel River. The vessel entered a busy sea canal before traversing locks and passing several bridges as well as a yacht club and marina.

Kongsberg technologies used in the trial included Autodocking, Autocrossing and automatic navigation systems. The company has also developed cloud-based communications systems and advanced simulations to test and ensure that the vessel operated safely and optimally.

‘We are delighted with the performance of the Zulu 4 on what is a challenging route through the busy Belgian waterways. The course that the Zulu 4 completed provided an opportunity to test our technology in a real-life situation, where numerous manoeuvres were performed successfully and safely,’ said Pål André Eriksen, Senior Vice President, Remote & Autonomous Solutions, Kongsberg Maritime.

‘The test run provides all partners within AUTOSHIP with essential experience and data, which can help us advance the adoption of remote-controlled and autonomous technology in the maritime sector.’

Antoon Van Coillie, CEO, ZULU Associates, which develops emission-free inland vessels, added: ‘The fitting out of Zulu 4 with digital technology from Kongsberg Maritime and its testing is a major step forward to achieving autonomous operation of inland waterway barges. This will allow the industry to respond to the triple challenges of zero emission transport, real modal shift and the looming workers shortage crisis.’

Under remote monitoring from the ROC, the team and vessel had to show situational awareness, engine and machinery monitoring, berthing/unberthing and manoeuvring in port. The same tasks were demonstrated under autonomous control, as well as collision avoidance, grounding avoidance, transit sailing and automatic mooring. Zulu 4 also demonstrated the ability to switch between autonomous operation and remote-controlled operation.

This live trial of the technology follows another demonstration of autonomous ship technology on 25 May in Alesund, Norway, in which a cargo vessel, Eidsvaag Pioneer, completed a range of tasks autonomously.

Kongsberg says Europe’s inland waterways ‘offer positive environmental impacts’ by using autonomous shipping technology, noting that an autonomous barge in operation is ‘expected to take around 7,500 trucks off the roads each year’ and will result in ‘reductions in both traffic congestion and emissions.’

Image: ©Kongsberg Maritime (Martin Giskegjerd)

Rhys Berry