First Unmanned and Fully-Automated Offshore Vessel Planned for 2018

An artist illustration of the unmanned and automated offshore vessel Hrönn. Image: Kongsberg
An artist illustration of the unmanned and automated offshore vessel Hrönn. Image: Kongsberg

The UK’s Automated Ships Ltd and Norway’s Kongsberg Maritime have teamed up to build what they claim will be the world’s first unmanned and fully-automated vessel for offshore operations.

Kongsberg announced Tuesday that the two companies have signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the offshore vessel, dubbed Hrönn, which will be designed and built in Norway beginning in January 2017.

Testing of the new vessel will take place in Norway’s newly designated autonomous ship test area in the Trondheim fjord under under the auspices of international classification society DNV GL and the Norwegian Maritime Authority (NMA). If all goes according to plan, the Hrönn could enter service as the world’s first full-size unmanned ship as early as 2018. 

“Currently, only small unmanned boats are being utilised for near shore operations but there are no technical limitations to constructing large, unmanned and automated systems,” Kongsberg said in a press release. “The only impediments are regulatory, but with the participation of DNV GL and the NMA, and Norwegian and UK companies and institutions, it will be possible to rapidly and at low-cost be the first to market with a full-size unmanned ship.”

Kongsberg describes the Hrönn as a light-duty, offshore utility ship designed to service the offshore energy, scientific/hydrographic and offshore fish-farming industries.

“Its intended uses include but are not limited to: Survey, ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) and AUV (Autonomous Underwater Vehicle) Launch & Recovery, light intermodal cargo delivery and delivery to offshore installations, and open-water fish farm support. The vessel can also be utilised as a standby vessel, able to provide firefighting support to an offshore platform working in cooperation with manned vessels. Automated Ships Ltd is currently in discussion with several end-users that will act as early-adopters and to establish a base-rate for operations and secure contracts for Hrönn offshore, in the near future,” the press release said.

Hrönn is planned to initially operate and function primarily as a remotely piloted ship, in “Man-in-the-Loop Control” mode, but eventually will transition to fully automated and autonomous operations as control algorithms are developed “concurrently during remotely piloted operations.”

The vessel will be constructed by Fjellstrand AS, a Norwegian shipyard with a history of building state-of-the-art aluminium fast ferries as well as a number of steel offshore vessels and aluminium workboats. Fjellstrand also known for building the world’s first battery driven, all-electric car ferry, ‘Ampere’, which entered service in 2015.