Autonomous ships in Singapore could become a reality with MPA’s new innovation lab

The Next Generation Vessel Traffic Management System Lab (NGVTMS Lab), jointly launched by ST Engineering and Kongsberg NorControl, will realise the development of new vessel traffic capabilities. (Photo: Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore)

Source: Channel News Asia

SINGAPORE: Autonomous ships may arrive in Singapore’s waters in the near future, thanks to the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore’s (MPA) new Maritime Innovation Lab (MIL).

The lab was launched on Tuesday (Apr 9), in conjunction with Singapore Maritime Week 2019.

Besides experimenting with future technologies, the facility will work towards boosting the sector’s technological capabilities, as well as developing “next-generation port operations”, MPA said in its statement.

“This new developer space, located at PSA Vista, will accelerate the development of new operation concepts and systems, and build local technological capabilities in key areas, ensuring that our sea port is future-ready,” MPA added.

One such key area will be the study of autonomous ships. The port authority has set up a cross-agency steering committee to ensure Singapore will be able to receive autonomous ships in the future.

The committee will formulate an implementation roadmap of autonomous maritime operations in Singapore’s port waters, as well as undertake research and development projects to build technical capabilities to handle such vessels.

MPA has also initiated five autonomous vessel projects worth S$7.2 million with various companies, including ST Engineering and Keppel Singmarine. 

One project will see ST Engineering, along with Mitsui OSK Lines, MPA and Lloyd’s Register, embark on the world’s largest ocean-going autonomous vessel programme. The programme will steer the sails of a large commercial vessel in the high seas autonomously.

ST Engineering will develop and install perception and navigation modules on the Singapore-flagged car carrier ship, which is expected to sail along a global route. This route will include locations such as the Suez Canal, Panama Canal, the Straits of Malacca and Singapore to provide data, knowledge and test scenarios that could serve as the benchmark for future autonomous programmes.

“As the maritime industry moves towards leveraging technology to develop autonomous vessels and enhance operations in a safer, faster and more cost-effective manner, autonomous ship technology can be transited to other vessel types, with potential applications in the regional harbor fleet of crafts including tug boats, pilot boats and ferries,” said MPA, ST Engineering, Mitsui and Lloyd’s Register in a joint statement.

MPA added that industry partners, research institutes and local universities will be able to use the MIL to develop their own maritime solutions and capabilities.

One such example is that of vessel traffic management, which will be studied via a separate facility, also co-located within the MIL. It was launched by ST Engineering and Kongsberg NorControl.

The S$9.9 million lab, to be completed in 2021, will look into the analysis of vessel routes, traffic hotspots prediction and detection of potential collisions.

Another focus of the MIL will see ST Engineering, PSA Marine and MPA jointly develop a remotely-assisted pilotage system that will allow onshore pilots to remotely guide vessels for safe berthing, unberthing and movement within domestic waterways to the port of call. 

“The remote, shore-based pilotage system will help to free up about 40 per cent of time spent by authorised pilots, alleviating their need to physically board the vessel from the port of call. This will enable more efficient manpower allocation, and the pilots can be redeployed for other critical tasks,” said MPA.

In addition, MPA has launched a data hub to assist with the maritime sector’s digitialisation efforts and data sharing, as well as the development and testing of applications and data-driven services.

“We are glad to have like-minded partners who strongly believe in the importance of experimentation and open innovation. Together with PSA and Jurong Port Living Lab, the MIL adds to the maritime research and innovation ecosystem, which will help take the maritime sector to a new level of development in areas such as automation, data analytics and intelligent systems,” said Ms Quah Ley Hoon, chief executive of MPA.

Dr Lam Pin Min, Senior Minister of State for Transport, added: “The setup of the Maritime Innovation Lab is an important milestone in Singapore’s journey to be the global maritime hub for connectivity, innovation and talent.”

The Singapore Maritime Week is an annual event. This year’s edition is ongoing until Apr 14, and is grouped into three sections – issues affecting the sector, digitalisation efforts focusing on start-ups, as well as outdoor exhibitions that showcase Singapore’s shipping industry’s history and heritage.