A design for a new unmanned surface vessel (USV) concept, created by Sea Machines and a consortium of partners including C-Job Naval Architects, LISA Community, Seazip Offshore Service, Maritime Research Institute Netherlands (MARIN) and eL-Tec Elektrotechnologie, has been unveiled. The Autonomous Guard Vessel (AGV) is designed to provide a small, lighter and more efficient alternative to current manned guard vessels used to protect maritime and offshore operations such as wind farms and cabling routes.
The AGV can continuously monitor nearby marine traffic visually as well as via radar and AIS (automatic identification system) data, taking measures to secure the area in order to avoid collisions and damage to offshore infrastructure. The USV will attempt communications with any vessel that approaches the area, providing information on how to safely navigate the area as well as physical escort away from the site. The encounter will be recorded to provide video footage in case of any violation or accident.
As the autonomous platform does not require an onboard crew, it is considerably smaller than equivalent manned guard vessels. This lowers the operational cost and also allows it to be sustainably powered by batteries, which can be recharged via a charging station. This station can be moored independently or connected to existing onsite equipment, such as an offshore transformer platform. Depending on the situation, charging could be performed either via a cable connection to the on-site equipment, or locally generated using renewable fuels.
The consortium envisions that a typical offshore site will require a number of AGVs, which can take turns in monitoring the area and recharging. In addition to autonomous operation, remote control is also being considered for the vessel, in order to deal with situations that require human intervention. The AGV would be connected to a command centre on a mothership or at a shore-based location, where a human operator will control the AGV remotely to ensure correct action is taken. In addition, all data collected by the AGV will be sent to the command centre.
Pelle de Jong, founding partner of LISA, explained: “Guard vessels perform an essential job, however, it is not the most exciting one for crew. Combined with the fact that conventional guard vessels are mostly outdated and thus aren’t necessarily the most comfortable let alone sustainable, it can be difficult to find well-trained crew willing to do the job. The group set out to improve upon the overall process of securing an offshore area while incorporating sustainable solutions and reducing overall cost. By utilizing the knowledge we have as a group as well as the technology already available, we succeeded in creating a design which does this and more.”
Rolph Hijdra, autonomous research lead at C-Job Naval Architects, commented: “We are pleased that we were able to develop a battery-powered design, ensuring the AGV is free of harmful emissions. Additionally, the ship has solar panels across the top which allows for the continuation of navigation and communications in case the batteries run out of power. Contrary to current guard vessels, the AGV will continue to be operational even with rough sea conditions and have minimal underwater noise owing to the smaller size, reduced propulsion requirements and absence of a diesel engine.”
Harm Mulder, operations manager at SeaZip Offshore Service, said: “The Autonomous Guard Vessels will be constantly patrolling the area and take turns recharging. One fully charged AGV will remain on stand-by supporting operations if a situation arises. For example, when an intrusion is detected – one of the AGVs will monitor, warn, and escort the intruding ship to safety, while the others continue normal operations. Alternatively, it could take over from a monitoring vessel in case the battery runs out of power.”
Frank Relou, business development manager at Sea Machines, stated: “Smart vessel technology will have the most significant initial impact on small workboats, such as this guard vessel. The development of autonomous technology for vessel operations are occurring on an international level but namely in niche segments, such as the guard vessel and other examples, currently operating in (with supervised autonomy), marine survey, fire, patrol, aquaculture and offshore wind operations.”