MUNIN’s Objectives & Impact
The overall goal of the MUNIN project originates form the vision of autonomous and unmanned vessels. Specifically, MUNIN aims to develop and verify a concept of an autonomous ship. For this purpose a number of particular objectives are combined in the project’s scope:
- Develop the technology concept needed to implement the autonomous and unmanned ship.
- Develop the critical integration mechanisms, including the ICT architecture and the cooperative procedural specifications, which ensure that the technology works seamlessly enabling safe and efficient implementation of autonomy.
- Verify and validate the concept through tests runs in a range of scenarios and critical situations.
- Document how legislation and commercial contracts need to be changed to allow for autonomous and unmanned ships.
- Provide an in-depth economic, safety and legal assessment showing how the results will impact European shipping’s competitiveness and safety.
- Show how the concept gives direct benefits, e.g. in reduced off-hire due to fewer unexpected technical problems, and provides efficiency, safety and sustainability advantages for existing vessels in short term, without necessitating the use of autonomous ships.
To achieve these objectives several elementary developments are necessary. Taken together they will enable autonomous ships on a conceptual level. In practice full autonomy may be difficult to realize in the near future, but nevertheless the research conducted within MUNIN will very likely have an impact on maritime transport in the short term. Some of the areas where the research and development conducted in the MUNIN project may find an application are described in the following.
Better obstacle detection can reduce accidents by providing decision support for the officer of the watch. Anti-collision radars (ARPA) and Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) are standard on modern ships today and contribute significantly towards the reduction of maritime collision incidents. To improve technological anti-collision means in the future new sensor systems based on, e.g., infrared, low light cameras or laser range finders as well as small object radar detection bring along substantial potential. The technical systems by themselves are sufficiently advanced for a maritime deployment. The challenge is their integration into legacy systems as well as the combination of complementary data form different sources to improve the overall performance. Since an autonomous ship has to rely solely on its sensors to detect objects in its vicinity, the design of such surveillance sensor system takes in a prominent role within MUNIN. Likewise, the insights gained in this area will bring along the potential to improve or augment today’s bridge equipment and accordingly enhance the support it offers the officer of the watch.
Furthermore, improved small object detection also is a valuable capability during Search and Rescue operations. Especially in extreme weather conditions with limited sight and heavy sea, highly advanced sensor systems developed for autonomous ships can considerably enhance the ability of today’s ships to detect e.g. a lifeboat in its vicinity.
Besides a mere detection of possible threats of collision, highly advanced navigation systems will increasingly be capable to evaluate the current traffic situation and recommend suitable solutions to avoid upcoming dangers or even induce an action to avoid a collision in the last moment, a functionality that can be found in cars already today. Such capabilities are indispensable for an autonomous ship and accordingly will be studied in the MUNIN project. The identified solutions can also be adapted for manned ships where they would support the officer of the watch.
The technical system of an autonomous ship has to be functional over a longer period of time without any technical failures or the need for maintenance of individual components. This is based on the fact that no crew is on-board to replace malfunctioned components or to carry out maintenance work in the course of the ships voyage of several weeks’ time. All maintenance and repair must be done during the port call or port approach. In order to comply with this restriction the robustness of the technical system of an autonomous ship has to be adequate. Further, sophisticated predictive maintenance strategies must be in place that are capable to identify the upcoming need to conduct maintenance and repair well before the affected component breaks down. These insights gained during the MUNIN project are not limited to an autonomous ship though, but can also be deployed on a conventional vessel. Accordingly, a further impact associated with the MUNIN research and development is in the area of better maintenance strategies and improved system robustness. Here lies a potential to reduce technical incidents on-board of today’s vessels and lower off-hire costs associated with those incidents.
Many coastal areas, such as port approaches and channels, are difficult to navigate and are highly sensitive to accidents and pollution. They require a pilot on-board the ship, pilot exemption certificates for crew and/or VTS interactions. As one prerequisite for autonomous ships MUNIN investigates improved ship-shore communication and coordination. The gained results can also be applied to support current processes of pilotage, VTS operations and ship management. Further improved communication and interaction possibilities between ship and shore could enable a shift of the responsibility for e.g. energy efficient ship operation and general system supervision from ship to shore. Combined with a higher availability of ship performance data this will make a wider use of Key Performance Indicators feasible, allowing an integration of large amounts of technical performance data in such a way that it enables an optimization of operational procedures on-board.