Fully-Autonomous Ferry Demonstrated in Northern Europe

falco autonomous ferry operation
Photo: Rolls-Royce

The autonomous operation of the ferry Falco comes after another ferry, named Folgefonn, was successfully tested in Norway. 

Rolls-Royce and Finnish state-owned ferry operator Finferries have successfully demonstrated what they claim to be world’s first fully autonomous ferry on a short route near Turku, Finland.

During the trials, the Finferries ferry Falco used a combination of Rolls-Royce Ship Intelligence technology to navigate autonomously during its voyage between Parainen and Nauvo – a distance of roughly 1.5 miles. The return journey was conducted under remote control.

During the demonstration, the Falco, with 80 invited VIP guests aboard, conducted the voyage under fully autonomous control – without zero human intervention from the crew.

“During the voyage, the vessel detected objects utilising sensor fusion and artificial intelligence and conducted collision avoidance. It also demonstrated automatic berthing with a recently developed autonomous navigation system,” Rolls-Royce said in a press release announces the success of the demonstration.

The Falco is equipped with a range of sensors helps it build a detailed picture of its surroundings in real-time and with a high-level of accuracy. During autonomous operations, the data is relayed to Finferries’ remote operating center on land, some 30 miles away in Turku, where a captain monitors the vessel and can take control if necessary.

Rolls-Royce says it so far clocked close to 400 hours of sea trials of the systems in Finland. Among other technologies tested, Rolls-Royce also tested it autodocking system which enables the vessel to automatically alter course and speed when approaching the dock and carry out automatic docking without human intervention. In additional, collision avoidance technology has also been tested in various conditions for several hours of operation.

The Falco is a 53.8 meter double-ended car ferry, which entered service with Finferries in 1993. It is equipped with twin azimuth thrusters from Rolls-Royce.

The success of Rolls-Royce’s demonstration follows last week’s announcement from Finnish technology group Wärtsilä that it too has successfully tested autonomous operation of a ferry in Norway. During Wärtsilä’s demonstration, the 85-meter ferry Folgefonn called at three ports under full autonomous operation and with no intervention from crew. 

Earlier this year Rolls-Royce and Finferries began collaborating on a new research project called SVAN (Safer Vessel with Autonomous Navigation), to continue implementing the findings from the earlier Advanced Autonomous Waterborne Applications (AAWA) research project, funded by Business Finland.

Mikael Makinen, Rolls-Royce, President – Commercial Marine, said: “Today marks a huge step forward in the journey towards autonomous shipping and reaffirms exactly what we have been saying for several years, that autonomous shipping will happen. The SVAN project has been a successful collaboration between Rolls-Royce and Finferries and an ideal opportunity to showcase to the world how Ship Intelligence technology can bring great benefits in the safe and efficient operation of ships.”

“This is a very proud moment for all of us and marks our most significant milestone so far. Today’s demonstration proves that the autonomous ship is not just a concept, but something that will transform shipping as we know it,” said Makinen.

Mats Rosin, Finferries’ CEO, added: “We are very proud that maritime history has been made on the Parainen-Nauvo-route once again. First with our world-renowned hybrid vessel Elektra and now Falco as the world’s first autonomous ferry. As a modern ship-owner our main goal in this cooperation has been on increasing safety in marine traffic as this is beneficial for both the environment and our passengers. But we are also equally excited about how this demonstration opens the door to the new possibilities of autonomous shipping and safety.”