One Sea: Autonomous shipping can become reality by 2025

Delivering an autonomous maritime transport system by 2025 will rely on ‘collaboration without borders’, but is definitely possible, according to One Sea. In 2017, the organisation presented a roadmap towards autonomous shipping and sees developments are currently ahead of schedule.

One Sea seeks to offer the digital, communications and shipping sectors a platform to collaborate on regulation, testing and validation and research and development to make autonomous shipping a reality. ‘Much of the technology required for maritime autonomy is already available, but there remains room for further research and optimisation,’ according to the organisation.

The roadmap that was presented in 2017 looks as follows:

The top section of this roadmap, in indigo blue, envisages an initial focus on remote monitoring making way for increasingly autonomous operations. Below, the green bar acknowledges the need for testing – firstly in small, national trials and later on a larger, global scale.

While validation is ongoing, regulations will need to be revised to accommodate autonomous vessels; this is illustrated by the red strip. Underneath, the royal blue area forecasts the progression of autonomy and digitalisation in general and within the maritime sector specifically.

At the bottom of the graphic, several themes are identified as being pertinent to the creation of an autonomous marine ecosystem. These include ethical issues stemming from the human factor and artificial intelligence; the evolution of cyber security; the launch of new projects and the associated intellectual property rights; education in the design and operation of automated ships; and national and global legislation.

Ahead of schedule

With the support of Finnish authorities, One Sea established a test area in Finnish waters in July 2017. Named “Jaakonmeri”, the site was the first of its kind to be open to companies from around the world wishing to trial maritime autonomous surface ships (MASS) and related technologies. It is managed by non-profit organisation Digital, Internet, Materials & Engineering Co-Creation Ltd (DIMECC) from Finland and offers the opportunity for testing in icy conditions during the winter.

Relative to the roadmap, testing is now ahead of schedule. At the same time, product and service creation is also outperforming targets set out in the roadmap. Activities up to 2019 in these fields are shown in the figure below.

Regulations and R&D

One Sea is currently involved in the International Maritime Organisation’s Maritime Safety Committee meetings to explore the regulatory implications of MASS. Activities have also been launched at the level of Rhine and Danube conventions for inland waterway traffic.

The organisation also seeks to engage with start-ups and agile businesses to identify and encourage innovation and co-create technology, solutions and services. R&D programmes in which alliance members and other organisations join forces include Sea for Value (S4V), launched by DIMECC in February 2020 to pave the way for remote pilotage and safer fairway navigation.

One Sea is an international initiative, and the alliance continues to seek active participation worldwide. Members include among others ABB, Awake.AI, Finnpilot, Inmarsat, Kongsberg Maritime and Wärtsilä. One Sea also partners with associations and government bodies, such as the Royal Institution of Naval Architects, Finnish Port Association and the Finnish Shipowner’s Association.

Author: Mariska Buitendijk

Mariska Buitendijk is one of SWZ|Maritime's journalists as well as the magazine's copy editor.