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IMDEX Asia 2019: ST Engineering prepares unmanned tug conversion

12th May 2019 - 23:41 GMT | by Chen Chuanren in Singapore

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ST Engineering is in final development stages before the conversion of a harbour tug into an autonomous surface vessel, in partnership with the Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) of Singapore and PACC Offshore Services.

ST Engineering will install its NERVA Ship Management System and Sensemaking System (SMS2) onto the 665t tug PW Benar.

Known as the Smart Maritime Autonomous Vessel, it will act as a proof of concept and regulatory development platform for the MPA, as the regulator charts its own unmanned system framework in anticipation of a regulatory roadmap from the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).

Conversion will begin from early 2020, and live trials will start from mid-2020. Phase 1 will see a two-year study on basic autonomous manoeuvring alongside manned vessels, before going into mission-based trials in Phase 2.

Ng Tee Guan, ST Engineering VP of Marine Technology and Solutions, said one of the most important factors about autonomous vessels is navigational autonomy and hull, mechanical and electrical (HM&E) autonomy, the latter especially so for larger oceangoing vessels.

NERVA will oversee the HM&E management, supported by data analytics for predictive maintenance and conditional-based maintenance to extend the ship’s uptime.

Ng added that, with ten years of autonomous development of the Venus USV and around seven years of NERVA development, ST Engineering as a group has gained significant expertise in this field. 

Alex See, assistant principal engineer, said this would be the first time the NERVA will be installed on an unmanned ship and also onshore as a remote station. ST Marine has partnered with local telecommunications company M1 to secure a private cellular network to communicate with the vessel, effective to a range of around 12 miles. 

Installation of the systems and wiring will take around 40 days, and it uses a drive-by-wire system to control the ship’s engines and throttles. See added that the company has worked with the engine OEM Niigata to allow the engines to take in third-party signals from the autonomous kit.

The sensor package includes an automatic identification system, navigation radar, differential GPS and six low-light cameras for a 360° view around the tug. See said the low-light cameras were selected over infrared cameras as colour differentiation and identification is a major factor in navigation and shore lighting would suffice to illuminate operating waters.

‘Compared to defence, the demand for such unmanned systems in the commercial world is still lacking, but we must keep ourselves ahead of the market,’ Ng said. ‘We have to assist the MPA in any way we can, and also let our potential customers know that we have such capabilities.’

Ng and See both echoed that there will be no boundaries on how the unmanned system could be used on naval applications, but rather, how comfortable the client would be sending an unmanned high-value asset into a theatre of operation.

Chen Chuanren

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Chen Chuanren


Chen Chuanren is Shephard’s Singapore correspondent, covering primarily land and sea systems. He served in …

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