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The IntelliTug project – one step closer to autonomous shipping

The world’s busiest transhipment hub, the Port of Singapore, is expected to double its capacity by 2040, once the Tuas Container Terminal is fully online with the completion of all four phases.

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PSA Marine’s fleet of harbour tugs provide towage services, assisting ships that call at the Port of Singapore. With a view to operate a smarter, safer, and more efficient fleet, PSA Marine set out to collaborate with Wärtsilä in developing the next-generation intelligent tug, capable of smart navigation and autonomous movement.

Taking an ecosystem approach, the IntelliTug project brings together Wärtsilä, PSA Marine, and other stakeholders; specifically, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA), Lloyd’s Register, and the Technology Centre for Offshore and Marine Singapore (TCOMS).

Strong partnership and a mindset of co-creation have contributed significantly to the success of the IntelliTug project, resulting in numerous breakthroughs that have taken the intelligent tug from designing and planning to virtual and real-world testing in just one year.

The project’s achievements have also been made possible by taking advantage of Wärtsilä’s own global network of expertise, including the Wärtsilä Acceleration Centre team, the Smart Sensing division, Dynamic Positioning experts, ship and fleet operations solutions team, and digital specialists.

Tug Master-friendly technology

The IntelliTug seeks to address the complex demands that Tug Masters face daily by incorporating human-centric, cutting-edge technologies that complement and augment their skills. To ensure a successful outcome, the end-users – in other words, the Tug Masters themselves – have purposefully been involved at every stage of the IntelliTug’s development.

The key innovation at the heart of the IntelliTug is the Smart Navigation System. This autonomous system assists the Tug Master with passage planning by plotting an optimised route while dynamically maintaining safe distances to other vessels during navigation, thus detecting and preventing potential collisions. The system includes sensor fusion technology that Tug Masters like to describe as an extra pair of eyes, enhancing their situational awareness and improving visibility in challenging conditions.

Another key feature of the IntelliTug is the Dynamic Positioning (DP) system, also known as the Joystick Manoeuvring System (JMS). JMS allows for easier and more intuitive control of the harbour tug’s movement and enables digital navigation instructions to be passed on to the vessel’s propulsion systems.

At the touch of a button, the system’s virtual anchoring keeps the tug in position, relieving the Tug Master from having to execute manual standby manoeuvres and allowing them and their crew to focus on critical tug operations. A Guard Circle feature also alerts the Tug Master on vessels encroaching into the tug’s safe zone.

Prior to physical testing of the Smart Navigation System in Singapore’s port waters, Lloyd’s Register took the lead in making sure that the control systems were safe and compliant as both a human-machine interface for vessel control, as well as a foundational layer for digital navigation instructions. Along with the development of the Intellitug project, the Wärtsilä DP system also met Lloyd’s Register’s requirements for DP notation.

Co-creation at the Wärtsilä Acceleration Centre

The IntelliTug was the first co-creation project run by the Wärtsilä Acceleration Centre in Singapore. The centre, which was officially launched in October 2018, was established to promote innovation projects in line with Wärtsilä’s Smart Marine Ecosystem. 

What the Wärtsilä Acceleration Centre has accomplished with the IntelliTug project over a short period of time proves what can be achieved with a clear vision, efficient collaboration, and the broad spectrum of world-class expertise offered by the ecosystem partners and different Wärtsilä teams involved.

Chris Chung, Director of Ecosystem Development at Voyage, Wärtsilä Marine Business, explains: “The IntelliTug project exemplifies how we co-create smart and innovative marine solutions. Guided by a common purpose, we have raised the bar on safety standards for autonomous vessels and technologies that help to develop a smarter, greener, and more efficient society.”

On November 14, 2019, Wärtsilä announced the launch of the Wärtsilä Smart Technology Lab and Expertise Centre in Singapore. The facilities seek to foster collaboration and co-creation with customers and end-users in the development and testing of integrated technologies and remote monitoring. 

In addition, Wärtsilä and PSA Marine signed a letter of intent at the Wärtsilä Acceleration Centre’s first anniversary. The parties pledge to design and advance solutions for smart and low-emissions harbour craft. They also aim to integrate deep capabilities developed in the IntelliTug project with new configurations and concepts for hybrid, electric, and clean energy technologies.

Clearly, the IntelliTug project has set great things in motion. Perhaps intelligent autonomous shipping is closer than we think.

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