Unmanned ships and robots are now being tested in the waters of Trondheim.
It is autonomous cars that dominate the tech media, but one city in Norway is making waves in the shipping industry. Trondheim's test site is in a quiet harbour and fjord, and as such it offers open water with relatively low shipping traffic and a safe place to test out the new technologies.
Opened last year, the test bed is a partnership between the Norwegian University of Science and Technology's Center for Autonomous Marine Operations (NTNU AMOS) and the Norwegian government. It has already hosted tests for everything from navigation and collision avoidance systems to operational safety and risk management projects, with companies like Kongsberg Seatex, SINTEF Ocean, Maritime Robotics and Rolls-Royce Marine taking part.
“As far as we know, there are no such test sites of this kind in the world so the Norwegian Coastal Authorities are taking the lead in a changing maritime world,” said Gard Ueland, President, Kongsberg Seatex. “We are seeing how autonomy is coming into vehicles on land. I believe we will see some massive changes in the future leading to smart ships that will make maritime transport safer and more efficient. We will also see technology that has the potential to enable fully autonomous cargo vessels. Much of this will come from Trondheim, thanks to the unmatched maritime expertise here and our autonomous vehicles test bed.”
A high-tech future on the ocean
The shipping industry is bracing itself for a technological revolution.
Ørnulf Jan Rødseth, senior researcher at SINTEF Ocean told local newspaper Adresseavisen that autonomous ships can be operated more environmentally friendly and with better security than today's ships. He also said that although most autonomous ships will still need a skeleton crew, there could be unmanned ships operating commercially in the Trondheim fjord within 5-10 years.
One of the companies experimenting in the Trondheim fjord is local business Maritime Robotics. They design and build a range of unmanned products, including unmanned surface vehicles, which are used for cost-efficient and risk-reducing maritime data acquisition on and into the seas.
Regulatory limitations have so far prevented large unmanned ships from being put into use, but a new European project is set to change that. Kongsberg, DNV GL and the Norwegian Maritime Authority (NMA) are working together with The UK's Automated Ships Ltd to launch a new fully-automated vessel named Hrönn in 2018. The multi-use offshore utility ship is undergoing testing at the Trondheim site.
Kongsberg Seatex has also been using the site for the development of its snake-like Eelume underwater cleanup and inspection robot. The modular vehicle is designed to stay permanently underwater without the need for a tethered support ship.