A new £900k joint industry project is set to explore the technical, regulatory and societal issues of using autonomous surface vessels, integrated with existing manned shipping operations, to support offshore wind farm operations and maintenance.
The ultimate goal of the 18-month Windfarm Autonomous Ship Project (WASP) is to develop a timeline for the phased introduction of autonomous vessels.
Previous research has found that vessels can account for as much as 60% of an offshore wind farm’s operating costs, which in themselves make up almost a quarter of the total lifecycle costs. These costs could be significantly reduced through the introduction of Robotics and Artificial Intelligence (RAI).
Increasing use of autonomous vessels will also lead to the creation of highly skilled, cross sector jobs in areas such as the integration and planning of autonomous vessels, boosting the UK’s maritime and digital supply chains.
The project, which is part funded by Innovate UK and led by ASV Global, in partnership with the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult, SeaRoc Group, Houlder and University of Portsmouth, will set out to verify the benefits and build the case for the use of autonomous vessels.
As part of the project, ASV Global will be further advancing its world-leading autonomous control system to tackle the challenges presented by the operation of autonomous vessels in the constrained environment of a windfarm. ORE Catapult will work on the use cases and validation of the cost savings created by the project.
SeaRoc Group will be extending its SeaPlanner software to assist with the monitoring and operation of autonomous vehicles and the introduction of advanced cargo planning systems. Whilst the University of Portsmouth will assist with efficient route planning, logistics management and system analytics. Houlder will develop the vessel design and an innovative handling system to enable autonomous cargo transfer.
The project team will work with industry sponsor Ørsted, who will provide use cases from its Hornsea One offshore wind farm, located 120km off the Yorkshire coast. Manned operations will be used as the baseline to compare the time, cost and performance of unmanned ships in different roles, including asset surveillance, security patrols, component spares supply and crew transfer operations.
New products will come from adaptation of marine co-ordinator systems to operate with both manned and unmanned vessels, optimised navigation systems from autonomous vessels and robotic systems to support offshore operations.
ASV Global Senior Director, Business Development Dan Hook said: “The WASP project provides the perfect opportunity to show how far autonomous vessels have progressed. A sector roadmap for the integration of autonomous vessels into offshore wind farm operations and maintenance will enable the supply chain to prioritise and address the opportunities and challenges.”
Simon Cheeseman, Strategy Manager at ORE Catapult, added: “This is an excellent example of where we can deliver true cross sector benefit, creating products that can be used across a number of maritime sectors including offshore wind, search and rescue, oil and gas, and border force. Automotive, aerospace, and defence are all embracing autonomous systems to carry out some of what we term the ‘5Ds’ – jobs which are dull, dangerous, dirty, distributed and dear (expensive).
“Our industry is always looking for ways to reduce the need to send people offshore in a hazardous environment, at the same time as driving down costs whilst continually improving performance. WASP will assess the issues involved in integrating unmanned vessels operations and start to build the evidence to validate our initial findings.”
The project includes an industry advisory group and companies wishing to be part of this group should contact Simon Cheeseman for further information.