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Rolls-Royce moves ahead on autonomous ship R&D

Written by Nick Blenkey
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Rolls-Royce land-based control center concep

MARCH 8, 2017 — Rolls-Royce is moving ahead with its research and development plans to make remote and autonomous shipping a reality and reap the benefits of increasing digitalization in the marine industry.

Today it announced that it has been awarded a significant research grant by Tekes – the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation. The funding will enable Rolls-Royce to invest further in a research and development center in Turku, Finland.

The company plans to carry out further development projects there focused on the future development of land-based control centres, and the use of artificial intelligence in future remote and autonomous shipping operations.

Mikael Mäkinen, Rolls-Royce, President – Marine said: “Digitalization will transform the shipping industry in the years ahead, and the time is now right to set out how we are going to make this happen. Over the coming years we need to invest globally to develop the required capabilities and to establish a range of market-ready products and systems to take advantage of what is a significant global market opportunity.

“By combining our world leading capability and knowledge, with a clear plan of where we need to go next, we can work with our customers, governments and our global academic research network to develop and bring to market the advanced technology, products and supporting services needed both ‘on-vessel’ and ‘on-shore’ to make our vision of future remote and autonomous ships a reality.”

In Norway, the company is currently investing in a range of R&D projects, which will include a new Marine Fleet Management Center in Aalesund, to allow remote monitoring, data analysis, optimisation of ships and their on board equipment.

The center will allow Rolls-Royce to extend its “Power by the Hour” concept, already proven in its Aerospace business, to serve the marine sector. The new service makes use of big data to monitor, plan and perform maintenance and repairs on onboard ship equipment.

Asbjørn Skaro, Rolls-Royce, Director, Digital & Systems – Marine, said: “We are pleased to see the establishment of a center for Remote Control & Autonomous Ships in Finland, and welcome the continued support from Tekes. We are looking at further funding and capability opportunities in countries including Finland, Norway, U.K, and Singapore to develop our ship intelligence technology and build customer partnerships worldwide.

“By drawing on our existing capabilities in our Marine business, together with the global expertise we have across the Rolls-Royce Group and our relationships with partners, we believe we can secure up to £200 million [about $243 million] of investment to revolutionize shipping.”

The company is looking to develop partnerships and opportunities with other organizations around the world to, create the capability, competencies and jobs to supply the technology and components required.

According to Tekes, Rolls-Royce’s strategic partners in the Turku project will include the Technical Research Center of Finland (VTT) and Tampere University of Technology (TUT)

Tekes says that investments in autonomous shipping will increase in Finland and that Rolls-Royce’s decision to focus autonomous shipping R&D in Finland is motivating the agency to increase its investments in enabling technologies, such as artificial intelligence and communication technologies, and companies that create leading knowhow and synergies with autonomous shipping.

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