EU grants €20m in funding to drive autonomous vessel development

Eidsvaag Pioneer will be equipped for autonomous operations as part of the AUTOSHIP project

More than €20 million in EU funding has been granted to a Norwegian autonomous ship project, to support the installation and testing of autonomous technology on two vessels operating on short sea coastal shipping routes and in Europe’s inland waterways.

The funding of almost NOK 200 million (approx. €20.1 million) has been issued by Horizon 2020, an EU research programme, and is one of the largest grants ever given to Norwegian maritime researchers.

The money will be used to support the AUTOSHIP programme, a four-year Horizon 2020 project, which is a collaboration between Kongsberg, Norwegian research organisation SINTEF, and a range of other European partners. The Research Council of Norway is also providing support for the venture.

“The AUTOSHIP project gives Northern Europe, with Norway, a leading edge in developing the next generation of autonomous vessels,” said Iselin Nybø, Norway’s Minister of Research and Higher Education.

“The race is underway internationally. The technology contributes to safer, more efficient and sustainable operations at sea, both in transport and aquaculture. The project will now receive one of the largest allocations ever made from the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme to a Norwegian player. This is a NOK 200 million mark of quality.”

The aim of the project is to test and further develop key technology linked to fully autonomous navigation systems, intelligent machinery systems, self-diagnostics, prognostics and operation scheduling, as well as communication technology that can securely integrate into these vessels’ upgraded ‘e-infrastructure’.

Under the programme, the Eidsvaag Pioneer will be equipped with remote-operated systems and other autonomous technologies. This ship is owned by the Eidsvaag shipping company and operates along the Norwegian coast and in fjord areas where it carries fish feed to fish-farms.

The other vessel to be equipped with the new systems is a Belgian pallet shuttle barge owned by Blue Line Logistics NV. This operates on canals in Europe, transporting goods to and from large container ports.

Promoting the use of Europe’s inland waterways for environmental purposes is a major goal of the project, with the operation of autonomous barges potentially able to take around 7,500 trucks off the roads each year, according to the project partners.

“The Norwegian maritime cluster, of which Kongsberg is a part, is the world leader in autonomous shipping. Now we are further strengthening our position through the AUTOSHIP project, which will accelerate the realisation of next-generation autonomous ships and create a roadmap for commercialising autonomous shipping in the EU in the next five years,” said Egil Haugsdal, CEO of Kongsberg Maritime.

“We will demonstrate that it is possible to remotely operate several ships from land and over large geographical areas. The technology is used in different ways on the vessel to show that the solutions can be applied widely. This is a market with a significant potential.”

“There is increasing market demand for waterborne transport in the EU. The results of the AUTOSHIP project will lead to safer and greener transport in Europe with one of the major outcomes being a shift of goods transport from roads to waterways.”

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Rob O'Dwyer

Rob is Chief Network Officer and one of the founders of Smart Maritime Network. He also serves as Chairman of the Smart Maritime Council. Rob has worked in the maritime technology sector since 2005, managing editorial for a range of leading publications in the transport and logistics sector. Get in touch by email by clicking here, or on LinkedIn by clicking here.

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