Rotterdam port preparing for self-sailing ships

800px-Hyundai_Bangkok_p2_approaching_Port_of_Rotterdam,_Holland_19-Apr-2007
A container ship arriving at the Rotterdam Port (Picture: Wikimedia Commons/AlfvanBeem). (A container ship arriving at the Rotterdam Port (Picture: Wikimedia Commons/AlfvanBeem))

Hard work is being done at the Port of Rotterdam on the development of a self-sailing ship. The first serious test with autonomous sailing will happen within a year, Vincent Wegener of the company Captain AI said to broadcaster NOS.

Patrol ship RPA 3 is serving a the test vessel. Cameras are placed on the roof of the wheelhouse to map the surroundings - bridges, other ships, quays, even people in the water. All this image information is combined with data about the exact position of the ship, flow speed, water depth and wind direction. This creates a complete picture of the environment in which the ship finds itself. And once that is known, autonomous sailing can begin.

"We currently still do that with a simulator", Wegener said to the broadcaster. "Because the system still has to learn, just like a real helmsman. The test ship must experience as many situations as possible, so that the system also knows what to do in reality."

According to Wegener, there are two main reasons for developing self-sailing ships. The first is to reduce accidents. "In the case of accidents, human failure is involved in more than 75 percent of the cases. So if you can limit human activity to a minimum, the risk of accidents is considerably smaller."

The second reason is staff shortages. "It is often thought that robots take over the work k of people, but when it comes to captains, we really need self-thinking systems. According to research, there is currently a worldwide shortage of 185 thousand officers", Wegener said to NOS.

Self-sailing ships can also make a port operate more efficiently, he added. "One of the biggest problems of a port like Rotterdam is traffic congestion. The piloting of a ship takes many actions: the pilot must be on board, you need tugboats and rowers. If you can automate that, you can get a better flow going."

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