In control of the maritime future

ABB’s new dynamic positioning system has enabled a groundbreaking trial of a remotely operated passenger ferry. Find out how we developed it.

Two years ago, keen to respond to customer requests for a system that would allow them to approach port and continue maneuvering all the way to docking, we decided to start from scratch and build a dynamic positioning (DP) system with a highly intuitive interface and a significantly improved overall user experience. Today, we have a tool ready for the autonomous future of shipping.

When we started to develop the system, putting the user experience first – and enabling full vessel control literally at the fingertip – was a priority. Our in-house designers and engineers run the product development and client workshops as an interactive process, collaboratively building a tool that would pave the way toward autonomous shipping.

The result is ABB Ability™ Marine Pilot Control, a future-proofed system designed to go hand in hand with the developments in digital technologies. The system’s features and performance are user-driven, and instead of dictating how the system should be used, we have designed it “backwards” to meet customer expectations, as well as incorporating existing rules for DP operations. Since DP systems became mainstream maritime technology about two decades ago, touchscreen control has also become part of everyday life. ABB Ability™ Marine Pilot Control includes a touchscreen which has drawn on user input and user experience based design principles to offer a more holistic overview, simplifying the way commands are actioned and bringing the crew closer than ever before to “fly-by-wire” control. Taking away some of the buttons that crowd bridge consoles can only be a plus, while cutting back on the amount of cabling taking place “under the hood” represents a clear installation and maintenance gain.

Dynamic positioning provides a link between decisions taken at the helm and the maneuvering of a ship. It draws on data from sensors and analytic algorithms to optimize propeller and thruster actions, and therefore vessel responsiveness and overall safety and precision of operations.

ABB Ability™ Marine Pilot Control’s development cannot be separated from ABB Ability™ Marine Pilot Vision, the situational awareness system that takes advantage of digital twin technology to offer multiple visualizations of a ship’s surroundings in real time. Both technologies are part of ABB Marine & Ports’ over-arching “Electric. Digital. Connected.” vision for the maritime industry that maximizes the full potential of vessels to ultimately enable safer, more efficient and sustainable ship operations.

ABB Ability™ Marine Pilot Vision exploits the potential of a real-time 3D engine that also happens to be used for half of the world’s computer games. As for ABB Ability™ Marine Pilot Control, the system allows algorithms to process data gathered from ship’s sensors locally to avoid the latency issues that might otherwise affect situational awareness.

ABB Ability™ Marine Pilot Control uses model predictive control algorithms to interpret conditions, position and thruster/propeller data to predict where the vessel “will be”. This means the operator can switch between joystick control and automatic pilot at any speed. When it comes to meeting the requirements of an increasingly automated future, the ability of the system to operate across the speed range becomes paramount.

The trial of the technology on board the Finnish ferry Suomenlinna II that took place on November 28, represents a crucial step toward increasing the maritime industry’s acceptance of autonomous operation systems. Suomenlinna II was retrofitted with ABB Ability™ Marine Pilot Control, and steered from a control center in Helsinki. The ferry was also retrofitted with ABB Ability™ Marine Pilot Vision situational awareness system in 2017.

Put another way, ABB Ability™ Marine Pilot Vision “sees” what is ahead of the ship, and ABB Ability™ Marine Pilot Control can be compared to the motor skills that can be trained to communicate between the brain and body in the most efficient way. With these key building blocks in place, we are only getting started.

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About the author

Vegard Saeterlid

Vegard Sæterlid is ABB Marine & Ports’ Global R&D Product Manager for Dynamic Positioning. With technical and practical knowledge of vessel behavior, Vegard contributes with specifications and guidance to ABB Marine and Ports’ development of next-generation vessel control and autonomous shipping. Vegard holds a M.Sc. degree in Technical Cybernetics from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
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