Autonomous tug takes a big step towards reality

The technology group Wärtsilä, in collaboration with PSA Marine, has achieved a breakthrough in its IntelliTug project. Following the successful installation of a first-of-its-kind Dynamic Positioning (DP) system onboard the harbour tug ‘PSA Polaris’, trials are now being carried out in the Port of Singapore under real-world conditions. This phase of the project implementation, which has been approved by Lloyd’s Register, moves the bar higher on safety standards for vessel automation and autonomy. The Wärtsilä and PSA Marine IntelliTug project is also supported by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore.

The new DP system, also known as the Joystick Maneuvering System (JMS), enables easier and more intuitive control of the tug’s movement. With the push of a button, the tug master can achieve ‘virtual anchoring’ to hold position and/or maintain the tug’s heading. The DP system also forms the foundational technology layer for the IntelliTug project, enabling digital navigation instructions to be passed to the vessel’s propulsion systems. The system has received a Statement of Compliance from Lloyd’s Register for the DP notation, thereby endorsing its safety, reliability and performance.

PSA Marine is a leading harbour and terminal towage operator in Singapore, the world’s busiest transshipment hub. To meet the challenges of the evolving port, which is expected to double its capacity by 2040, Wärtsilä and PSA Marine are developing and field-testing intelligent vessel capabilities and viable pathways to achieve safe and sustainable autonomous operations. The IntelliTug project is bringing to life a smart tug that can enhance the capabilities of the tug master by autonomously performing a range of routine missions. This will ease the task of addressing the complex demands faced by tug masters on a daily basis.

“The IntelliTug project is about discovering smarter, safer, and more efficient ways of operating a harbour tug. It incorporates human-centric technology, design thinking, and man–machine collaboration. We are on a journey of turning today’s ideas into tomorrow’s reality,” said Bernard Wong, Head of Fleet Management at PSA Marine.

“Safety and productivity are key areas being improved with our autonomous vessel technology. As we develop and learn from these technologies, the values we are able to provide to our customers will grow exponentially, providing a very clear path for businesses needing to compete in the new intelligent maritime industry,” said Paul Kendall, Wärtsilä’s Director of Sales, Dynamic Positioning.

“With the growing interest in repurposing existing vessel systems for autonomous navigation, Lloyd’s Register is taking the lead in making sure that control systems are safe and compliant as both a human-machine interface for vessel control, as well as the foundational layer for digital navigation instructions. We are delighted to advise that Wärtsilä’s DP system has met the requirements of our DP notation,” said Andrew Watt Lloyd’s Register’s Centre of Excellence Manager for South Asia, the Middle East & Africa.

The PSA Marine tug masters involved in the IntelliTug project underwent simulation and onboard training before commencing actual operating trials onboard ‘PSA Polaris’. Wärtsilä and PSA Marine will continue development of the IntelliTug project throughout the coming months, including physical test-bedding and trials in Singapore port waters.

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