Singapore’s Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) is launching its new Maritime Innovation Lab (MIL), which will on developing autonomous ships that can be used in commercial operations in the near future.
A major activity of the MIL will be to develop and experiment with future technologies related to autonomous ships and the MPA has established a cross-agency committee to ensure that Singapore has the capabilities and technologies to receive autonomous ships in future years. In addition to autonomous ships, the MIL will also study and develop “next-generation port operations” that will support autonomous ships.
The MPA said in a press statement about the MIL that, “This new developer space will accelerate the development of new operation concepts and systems, and build local technological capabilities in key areas, ensuring that our seaport is future-ready.”
An artist rendering of an autonomous large-scale cargo vessel
The new maritime lab will cost $7.3 million USD to build and will be completed in 2021. The MPA has designed the MIL so that industry partners, research institutes and local universities will be able to use it to develop their own maritime solutions and capabilities.
As well as autonomous vessels and next-generation ports, other areas that will be studied will relate to the analysis of vessel routes, traffic hotspot predictions and the detection of potential collisions.
The MPA also said that it has initiated five autonomous vessel projects worth $5.3 million USD. Companies involved with the autonomous vessel projects include Singmarine and ST Engineering.
One project will see ST Engineering, along with other partners develop a “test” case to develop and install perception and navigation modules on a large commercial vessel and sail the vessel along a global route that will include locations such as the Panama and Suez Canals, the Straits of Malacca and Singapore. The goal is to gather data and test scenarios and technologies that could be used in future autonomous vessels.
Another project being developed relates to vessel traffic management, which will be studied via a separate facility, also co-located within the MIL.
The MPA, ST Engineering, Lloyd’s Register, Mitsui and ST Engineering said in a joint statement that: “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.”
An Intel & Rolls Royce vision of future autonomous fleets
In October 2018 Intel said that it would partner with Rolls Royce to build autonomous ships and that the companies are planning to deploy a fleet of fully autonomous ships by 2025.
In announcing their partnership, the companies said that: “The system is packed with a large network full of cameras, radar, and LIDAR, which are controlled by a centralized program. With the help of vision algorithms, it can detect obstacles in nighttime and within busy ports.”
The firms plan to use 3D NAND solid-state drives for storing the data that would come from this network and use Intel Xeon chips to process this information.
The intelligent awareness system is a revolutionary next step in the technology because it will have the capacity to automatically classify any obstacles around it, that include tankers, ship, cruise, pleasure craft or tugs.