Robots in the Maritime Industry – Cost Effective, Safe, Environment Friendly – Part 1


The shipping industry is gradually embracing technological advancements in all spheres. Whether it is employing blockchain or testing autonomous ships, the maritime industry is pegged to become more reliant on technology and automation.

Robots are slowly making their presence felt and proving their efficiency, while cutting costs and mitigating safety concerns. Sea News brings you the latest developments in the field:

Autonomous Ships – There was a time when such a concept was pure science fiction. However, Rolls-Royce will soon make the idea, a reality. The company signed a deal with Google to develop further its intelligent awareness systems, which are making existing vessels safer and are essential to making autonomous ships a reality.

Image Courtesy: Rolls-Royce

The agreement, believed to be the first in the marine sector, was signed at the Google Cloud Summit in Sweden. It allows Rolls-Royce to use Google’s Cloud Machine Learning Engine to further train the company’s artificial intelligence (AI) based object classification system for detecting, identifying and tracking the objects a vessel can encounter at sea.

Karno Tenovuo, Rolls-Royce, SVP Ship Intelligence said, “While intelligent awareness systems will help to facilitate an autonomous future, they can benefit maritime businesses right now making vessels and their crews safer and more efficient. By working with Google Cloud we can make these systems better faster, saving lives.”

Eva Fors, Head of Google Cloud Sales Nordics said, “By exploring the possibilities presented by machine learning, Rolls-Royce can combine the latest technology advancements with its deep knowledge of the maritime industry, ultimately bringing significant improvements to the sector.”

Hull-Cleaning Robots – Marine fouling and bio-fouling not only causes wastage in terms of fuel and time, but can also be hazardous to the marine environment.
To combat this issue, researchers came up with the an innovative solution for hull roughness management by creating a hull cleaning robot. Hull cleaners are autonomous or semi-autonomous underwater robots used to scrub ship hulls clean while still in the water. Routine use of hull cleaners could result in fuel savings. Hull cleaning robots may also be able to reduce the risk of spreading invasive species.

The Robotic Hull Bio-Mimetic Underwater Grooming system, or Hull BUG was created by the Office of Naval Research (ONR). The Hull BUG is an autonomous underwater hull grooming robot specifically designed to prevent the accumulation of marine fouling.

Image Courtesy: Searobotics

According to ONR, “The current developmental model of the Hull BUG uses four wheels and a negative pressure alternative device assembly for attachment to the hull. A suite of onboard sensors will provide obstacle avoidance, path planning and navigation capabilities that include detection of fouled and groomed surfaces. By reducing marine fouling on ship hulls, the Hull BUG will help ensure peak ship performance, reduce fuel consumption associated with increased drag from accumulated biofouling and decrease the U.S. Navy’s carbon footprint. Risk of hull invasive species transfer may also be reduced. The Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock, estimates that vessel speed is reduced by up to 10 percent from biofouling, which can require up to a 40 percent increase in fuel consumption to counter the added drag. In fact, colonised barnacles and biofilms settled on the hull of a Navy ship translates into roughly 500 million dollars annually in extra fuel and maintenance costs.”

Image Courtesy: Motorship

Now, there are various companies offering hull cleaning services through robots. This is due to various reasons. Worcester Polytechnic Institute states, “Biofouling is the buildup of organisms on the side of boat hulls, propellers, and other infrastructure in aquatic and marine environments. It causes a variety of issues for vessels of all types, including large tanker ships, military vessels, and personal watercrafts. Organisms on a ship’s hull increase fuel consumption by increasing the ship’s drag. Additionally, vessels can transfer marine species from one region of the world to another. When an invasive species is introduced to an ecosystem, there is often a disruption and damage to the environment.

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) Secretary-General recognises invasive species as one of the greatest threats to the ecological well-being of the planet (International Maritime Organisation, 2016a). With increasing consciousness for green shipping, technologies that help in higher fuel efficiency and reductions of carbon-dioxide emissions are in great demand. Hull roughness management using hull cleaning robots can play a vital role in this regard.”

Image Courtesy: Fleet Cleaner

Technology for hull cleaning is rapidly advancing. Fleet Cleaner offers the service 24/7 at all Utah ports. The company recently announced, “Both vertical sides of the mv Fagelgracht, one of the general cargo vessels operated by Spliethoff, were recently cleaned while berthed in the Port of Rotterdam, by the innovative hull cleaning company Fleet Cleaner. By allowing a small distance between the vessel and the quayside, both vertical sides could be cleaned with Fleet Cleaner’s robot, without any influence on planned cargo operations at the terminal. This was both a technical and operational achievement. The cleaning was done with a newly developed concept which allows underwater cleaning without divers. The Fleet Cleaner system also includes a waste water removal and treatment system before releasing back the clean water in port. The cleaning robot is not equipped with brushes but with rotating high pressure waterjets, which do not damage the coating. Due to the use of the navigation systems of Fleet Cleaner, both sides of the hull were quickly cleaned, with no downtime for vessel’s operations.”

Shipping company Spliethoff, which highly values sustainability, assisted in supporting this first demonstration. Karel van Zijl of Spliethoff’s business development department also underlines the importance of regular hull cleaning, “A clean hull helps to reduce drag and therefore reduces fuel costs and COemissions significantly. Two matters that are highly valued by Spliethoff.”

Robotics News Feature, November 3

 By Priyanka Ann Saini