Consortium develops Autonomous Guard Vessel concept

Written by Nick Blenkey
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Carrying no crew, and thus needing no accommodations, Autonomous Guard Vessel can be smaller and battery powered

Offshore wind farms and other offshore structures could soon be protected by Autonomous Guard Vessels (AGV). A consortium of maritime companies has just released a concept design that exploits technology available today to deliver an autonomous vessel that is smaller and lighter than most current guard vessels used to protect offshore operations.

The AGV concept stems from a project group facilitated by LISA, an on-line community for maritime professionals. The project group resulted in a consortium that includes C-Job Naval Architects, SeaZip Offshore Services, Sea Machines Robotics and has recently been joined by MARIN and eL-Tec elektrotechniek BV.

The Autonomous Guard Vessel is specifically designed for surveillance of offshore structures throughout their life cycle. Within any area that needs to be secured, the AGV can continuously monitor nearby marine traffic visually as well as via radar and AIS data. Any vessel intruding into the secured area can be communicated with and will receive information on how to safely navigate the area as well as being physically escorted away from the site by the AGV. Additionally, the encounter will be recorded to provide video footage in case of any violation or accident.

Should human intervention be required, the AGV will be connected to a Command Center that would control the AGV remotely to ensure correct action is taken. In addition, all data collected by the AGV will be send to the Command Center, which could be a standalone on a mother ship or a shore-based station.

As the AGV requires no crew onboard, accommodations can be eliminated resulting in a vessel that is considerably smaller than existing guard vessels. The smaller size creates a number of opportunities, such as using batteries thanks to reduced propulsion requirements. Additionally, the reduced power and lack of onboard crew leads to lower operational costs.

Sustainability is key to ensure both the viability and durability of the design. Rolph Hijdra, Autonomous Research Lead at C-Job Naval Architects, says “We are pleased we were able to develop a battery-powered design, ensuring the Autonomous Guard Vessel is free of harmful emissions. Additionally, the ship has solar panels across the top which allows for the continuation of navigation and communications in case the batteries run out of power.

“Contrary to current guard vessels, the AGV will continue to be operational even with rough sea conditions and have minimal underwater noise owing to the smaller size, reduced propulsion requirements and absence of a diesel engine.”

The Autonomous Guard Vessel will recharge its batteries via a charging station. The charging station can be moored independently or connected to existing equipment onsite. Depending on the situation, charging could either be via a cable connection to the on-site equipment such as an offshore transformer platform or locally generated using renewable fuels.

The consortium envisions an offshore site would need a number of AGVs, which can take turns in monitoring the area and recharging.

Harm Mulder, Operations Manager at SeaZip Offshore Service, says “The Autonomous Guard Vessels will be constantly patrolling the area and take turns recharging. One fully charged AGV will remain on stand-by supporting operations if a situation arises. For example, when an intrusion is detected – one of the AGVs will monitor, warn, and escort the intruding ship to safety, while the others continue normal operations. Alternatively, it could take over from a monitoring vessel in case the battery runs out of power.”

Frank Relou, Business Development Manager at Sea Machines, says that “Smart vessel technology will have the most significant initial impact on small workboats, such as this guard vessel. The development of autonomous technology for vessel operations are occurring on an international level but namely in niche segments, such as the guard vessel and other examples, currently operating in (with supervised autonomy), marine survey, fire, patrol, aquaculture and offshore wind operations.”

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