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Blog ABS Announces Future Rules for Autonomous Vessel Operations

October 31, 2022

Earlier this year, the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS), an American maritime classification society, published a whitepaper proposing goal-based requirements for fully autonomous vessels. This publication supports the industry’s increasing adoption of autonomous capabilities with a focus on safe implementation. Included in it are 10 goals to create a framework for the design and operation of autonomous vessels and addresses key issues in implementation.  

As a collaborator alongside ABS, and the other groups responsible for developing the framework for autonomous vessels, Sea Machines shares the many ways in which our autonomous vessel technology can help operators meet these 10 stated goals. 

  1. Maintain propulsion
    ABS states that vessels should always maintain propulsion. In the event of loss of propulsion, a vessel should be able to quickly restart without external aid. Autonomous technologies, like those offered by Sea Machines, fully interface with a vessel’s propulsion system to offer greater automated control over redundant systems to help ensure power continuity. Because Sea Machines systems enable remote command and control, our technology lets operators control propulsion systems from nearly any location on or off the vessel.
  2. Maintain safety of vessel
    The goal of maintaining safety of a vessel must be viewed multi-dimensionally, says ABS. This includes management of onboard machinery, mitigating fire risk and maintaining continuity of electrical power. As stated above, Sea Machines interfaces with a vessels’ propulsion systems, as well as all onboard machinery, to enable remote monitoring and command for enhanced safety during operations. In the future, autonomous systems will likely also be programmed to support remote fire monitoring and control.
  3. Protect against flooding
    ABS notes that water ingress and flooding is a key concern of vessel safety. Sea Machines’ autonomy system currently includes Seakeeping Mode, a feature that autonomously adjusts a vessel’s velocity and turn speeds prevent taking on water in rough seas. In the future, Sea Machines could program its autonomous technology to keep a vessel within stability thresholds during operations.
  4. Maintain safety of navigation
    ABS states that maintaining safety of navigation requires analysis of not only the vessel’s own onboard systems but also the interaction with other vessels and the response to environmental and sea conditions. In addition to Sea Machines interfacing with all onboard systems, our autonomous technology aggregates data from AIS, radar, GPS and other sources into a single, intuitive display for mariners. Using this data, the system can safely navigate waterways while effectively managing environmental conditions. Autonomous obstacle detection and collision avoidance that complies with industry COLREGs is a standard feature of the SM300, adding an extra layer of security to vessel navigation.
  5. Communicate distress
    In the event the autonomous vessel finds itself in an emergency or distress situation, ABS says a vessel should be able to communicate its distress to others. Sea Machines’ autonomous system can be programmed to include sensor integration logic to alert a remote command station, other vessels or response authorities when fire or other alarms are set off. In a fraction of a second, our autonomous systems would be able to communicate the vessel’s location, equipment condition and any other critical information for better responses.
  6. Meet environmental concerns
    ABS says autonomous vessels must meet the goal of compliance with the intent of meeting the requirements contained in the MARPOL. In addition to providing collision avoidance functionality to prevent incidents that may result in spilled oil or other pollutants, autonomous systems can help vessels operate more efficiently. Reducing speed, enacting precision routing and mitigating traffic and weather can result in lower fuel consumption and reduced emissions at sea.
  7. Provide continuous monitoring and situational awareness
    Sea Machines’ autonomy is designed to provide continuous monitoring and situational awareness capabilities 24/7 across all conditions. Consistently on watch and not subject to human error, Sea Machines’ systems can collect and process data, such as navigation and traffic information and vital details of the operating domain. By combining computer vision information with data generated from conventional sensors, these technologies provide robust situational awareness that is never fatigued or distracted and is always on watch.
  8. Maintain command and decision system
    The most critical aspect of autonomy is its central command and decision system. It should be able to observe and analyze a vessel’s surroundings, make decisions, execute those decisions and give instructions to various constituent systems, while communicating with the remote operator station. Sea Machines autonomy does all of this while also providing critical redundancy and reliability to operations.
  9. Maintain safety of cargo
    ABS says cargo on autonomous vessels should be stored and secured in such a way that the vessel and the environment are not put at risk. In addition to providing the previously mentioned Seakeeping Mode, autonomous vessels can utilize camera systems to provide local or remote monitoring of cargo from any angle, day or night.
  10. Maintain communication with remote operations center
    For vessel supervision and safety management, ABS says it is critical for the vessel to maintain communication with the shore control station and/or other vessel traffic, pilots, harbor control and riding crews or transport team. Sea Machines’ autonomous systems aggregate vessel details into one intuitive display, offering a streamlined way for crew to communicate necessary information to these parties. For unmanned vessels, remote operators monitoring the vessel can serve in this capacity. 

Sea Machines is proud to develop leading autonomous systems and solutions that proactively meet the industry’s needs. Our crew will continue to play a guiding role in ensuring that regulations are developed to prioritize the safety of vessels, crew, cargoes and the environment.  

To learn more about ABS’ framework for autonomous vessels and key issues for consideration, download the full whitepaper here. To read about Sea Machines and ABS most recent work, check out our press release here.