Damen is one of the shipbuilding industry giants committed to transforming maritime transport operations through innovative technologies, ship designs, and green fuels. Autonomous sailing plays an important part in this journey, and one of the best possible companions is the bold startup that introduced the world’s first self-sailing ferry.
The great news is that MF Estelle is not a futuristic concept that can only tantalize us with its possibilities. This is a commercial vessel that has already kicked off regular operations in Stockholm. Operated by Torghatten, Estelle boasts several game-changing innovations, including state-of-the-art digital security, self-driving capabilities, and electric propulsion.
The name of this unique ferry is linked to Zeabuz, a bold Norway-based startup that focuses on autonomous sailing technology. The company that equipped MF Estelle with its autonomous navigation system was founded as a spin-off of the autonomous vessel research community at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim. It was this leading community that designed and built the world’s first prototypes of autonomous passenger ferries, which were the inspiration for MF Estelle.
Zeabuz currently offers several self-sailing solutions, from a basic version to a state-of-the-art system. What they all have in common is the startup’s main principle, stating that the Zeabuz technology “follows the same cognitive principles as a human captain.” Just like its human counterpart, this technology is capable of sensing, comprehending, planning, acting, and supervising.
The Zeabuz autonomous navigation system is designed to observe its surroundings using sensors, add tracking algorithms to establish situational awareness, and then use it for what is known in the industry as motion planning, which is setting up a dynamic path that includes collision avoidance.
The implementing phase of the motion plan is when the system actively controls the vessel. Finally, the supervision process implies monitoring operations and making strategic decisions in cooperation with the human operator. Zeabuz believes in the effectiveness of human-machine teaming above other alternatives.
Damen is ready to tap into this cutting-edge technology. It officially launched a partnership with Zeabuz that will extend over the course of several years. The two have not shared details about the practical application of this technology for future Damen ships but have stated that they will focus on complex testing and analysis.
While most innovation efforts in this industry are geared toward emission-free operations, autonomous navigation can also have a tremendous impact in terms of increasing human safety and boosting performance. The fact that a giant shipbuilder like Damen is looking into the possibilities of self-sailing technology proves its strategic potential for global shipping.