Inmarsat Signs On for Futuristic Drone Ship R&D Project

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September 8, 2015

Internationally, Roll-Royce has been appointed to lead the Advanced Autonomous Waterborne Applications, a project that could pave the way for autonomous, unmanned ships in the not-so-distant future. Illustration: Rolls-Royce


Global satellite provider Inmarsat has become the latest industry partner to sign on for a groundbreaking project exploring the use of unmanned, drone ships in the not-so-distant future.

The project, called the Advanced Autonomous Waterborne Applications Initiative (AAWA), was recently launched by Rolls-Royce and is funded by Tekes (Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation). The project aims to bring industry partners together with universities, research institutes, ship owners and other stakeholders to explore the economic, social, legal, regulatory and technological factors which need to be addressed in order to make autonomous ships a reality.

Inmarsat’s role will be to provide the satellite communications link and platform, essential for the remote control capability of autonomous ships.

Inmarsat says that data transfer between ships, as well as between ships and shore-based control centers, is considered one of the key development areas for remote controlled and autonomous ship research, building on existing ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore communication platforms and their effectiveness for supporting remote control functionality.

Turning Point


The basis of the system will be Inmarsat’s Fleet Xpress service delivered through the Global Xpress and L-band constellations, the world’s first hybrid Ka/L-band mobile satellite system.

“The launch of Inmarsat’s Global Xpress mobile broadband network, which forms the heart of the new Fleet Xpress service, is a real turning point for the future of the maritime industry and ideally lends itself to the AAWA Initiative,” commented Ronald Spithout, President Inmarsat Maritime.

“Fleet Xpress will enable the ship-to-shore communications required to support the remote control functionality fundamental to the realization of the autonomous ship. The high-performance, high-throughput network will open up unlimited possibilities for maritime applications and real-time monitoring and analysis of data, for smarter shipping today and the future,” Spithout added.

Autonomous applications

“The wide-ranging project will look at research carried out to date, before exploring the business case for autonomous applications, the safety and security implications of designing and operating remotely operated ships, the legal and regulatory implications, and the existence and readiness of a supplier network able to deliver commercially applicable products in the short to medium term,” said Esa Jokioinen, head Rolls-Royce’s Blue Ocean Team, responsible for research and development of future maritime technologies with focus on disruptive game-changing innovations.

“The technological work stream will be led by Rolls-Royce and encompass expertise from across a range of world-leading capabilities within the marine market. We are pleased to have partners, such as Inmarsat, as part of that team, enabling us to take the first concrete steps towards making remote controlled and autonomous ship applications a reality.”

The Advanced Autonomous Waterborne Applications Initiative will run from 2015 to the end 2017.

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