055 - Attitude control of autonomous ships navigating in ports

055 - Attitude control of autonomous ships navigating in ports


One of the many new emerging concepts having the potential to address present and future maritime challenges is autonomous ship navigation. In particular, the concept is expected to allow for more efficient and competitive ship operations while reducing, at the same time, vessels’ environmental impact.

Several activities have been initiated in the recent years with the aim to jumpstart the concept of autonomous shipping. The EC project MUNIN (Maritime Unmanned Navigation through Intelligence in Networks) aims at developing and verifying a concept for an autonomous ship. The AAWA project was started to develop specifications and possible design for the next generation autonomous ships. UTOSEA is a collaboration to develop technology and knowledge for automated situational awareness for ships. All these projects and others have been looking at the concepts or technologies needed for autonomous shipping to become a reality.

On ESA side, several exploratory activities have been launched with relevance to autonomous vessels. The GSP activity MAGS (Maritime Adaptive GNSS Safety Concept) has studied a novel safety concept to be used in the vicinity of ports, which makes use of an Adaptive Alert Limit (AAL) by creating a centralized port monitoring and processing function for all vessels in port waters, instead of using a fixed Alert Limit (AL). Moreover, one of the key aspects of the MAGS concept is the consideration of the vessel not as a single point but as a full 3D body, considering both position and attitude, taking into account the real ship contour and defining a marine vessel protection area (MVPA).

Two parallel NAVISP contracts (Artificial Intelligence / Machine Learning for Autonomous Vessels) are studying the usage of these techniques applied to specific autonomous operations (port approach, auto-docking and others). In particular, different configurations of PNT sensors are being investigated (GNSS plus vision, infrared, LIDAR, depth sensors) in combination with AI techniques to improve performance and resilience of maritime PNT solutions.

Moreover, other ESA activities have studied the maritime multipath environment and the results can be leveraged to propose better optimized antenna systems including the possibility of multi-antennas or adaptive ones for multipath mitigation and attitude determination.

While these activities are providing great steps in the direction towards autonomous vessels, they are looking into enabling building blocks and not yet a complete integration.

The proposed activity is a proof-of-concept, testing these methods and techniques in real scenarios in order to bring the PNT technology forward. Focusing also on attitude determination and control will allow testing a comprehensive set of solutions, techniques and technologies for autonomous operations in different scenarios.

The objectives of the proposed activity are to:

  • develop and prove alternative PNT concepts for ship positioning and attitude in ports, assessing achievable level of performance;
  • define attitude control based on different configurations of actuators and sensors that correspond to different class of vessels (e.g. ferries, tankers, containers, fishing vessels, tugs);
  • use several GNSS receiving (adaptive) on-board antennae and sensors (e.g. AI-NAV) to support ship attitude determination;
  • develop a proof-of-concept prototype to be tested in port scenarios.

The tasks to be performed include:

  • analysis of performance requirements applicable to the autonomous navigation of vessels at port, including attitude determination;
  • assessment of achievable PNT performance levels achievable, including accurate and reliable attitude determination, considering fusion of GNSS data with IMU sensors typically available on-board;
  • proposals for alternative PNT concepts potentially based on the use of multiple GNSS receiving antennae (including adaptive antennas and potentially distributed over the vessel) and sensors (e.g. AI-NAV) on board to help determining the ship attitude and in new integrity concepts (e.g. MAGS).
  • Develop a proof-of-concept prototype to be tested in port scenarios.

The main results of the activity will provide:

  • different alternative PNT concepts and technical solutions for present and future autonomous maritime vessels;
  • a prototype autonomous navigation PNT receiver based on COTS elements testing the methods and techniques identified in selected maritime operational scenarios.