CENTRO INTERNAZIONALE STUDI CONTAINERS
ANNO XXXVIII - Numero MAGGIO 2020
HOW ARE AERIAL DRONES BEING USED IN MARITIME?
Drones in ship surveying
"Though still seen by many as a toy for hobbyists,
aerial drones are transforming industries including defence,
logistics, agriculture and construction. There are a number of
groundbreaking projects and proofs of concept using drone technology
currently being undertaken in the maritime sector. Though there are
some regulatory hurdles yet to be overcome, the rapidly decreasing
cost of this technology means it could become an indispensable part
of the toolkit for everyone from ship's surveyors, to agents, to
offshore supply teams."
One of the clearest use cases for drones is in surveying.
Classification societies, ship management teams, and port/flag state
surveyors often need to conduct surveys in hard to reach places to
asses a vessel's condition. This can involve entering tanks and
ballast spaces, working at heights to inspect masts or communication
equipment, or travelling out to offshore structures. These
inspections clearly fall under the four D's that act as a litmus
test for jobs that should be automated; dull, dirty, dangerous, and
Dutch startup RIMS BV specialises in using advanced robotics for
inspection and maintenance in the maritime and offshore industries.
They have now been approved by nine classification societies to
carry out remote inspection work to ensure that ships are complying
with class and flag state regulations. DNV GL has also invested
heavily in developing a drone surveying capability. They have a team
of 16 drone surveyors who fly specially adapted commercial drones to
inspect vessels, offshore structures, and jack up legs.
By using drones in their operations, surveying teams are able to
reduce preparation time, eliminate the need for staging or rafting,
minimise the risk of damage to tanks, and maximise safety for
Drones in ships agency
In large anchorage ports like Singapore and Fujairah, ships
agency service providers spend hundreds of hours each year
transferring supplies, spare parts and crew members to ships
anchored off the coast. Currently, the best way to make those
deliveries is by launch boat, but it is costly, can be unsafe, and
has a detrimental impact on the local environment.
In March 2019, a drone lifted off from Marina South Pier in
Singapore and flew out to a waiting ship in the Eastern Working
Anchorage. The drone was carrying parts 3D-printed in an on-shore
micro-factory. It dropped off its 1.5kg payload on the deck of the
MV Pacific Centurion and returned to base. This was the first
commercial drone delivery to a vessel at anchor and it was conducted
as part of a collaborative project between aviation giant Airbus and
Wilhelmsen, a leading ships agency service provider. The entire
operation took just 10 minutes, less than half the time it would
have taken by boat.
Wilhelmsen predicts that the delivery of light, time critical
packages like spare parts, medical supplies and cash by drone could
reduce costs by up to 90% when compared to launch boat.
Drones in offshore support
Currently, the offshore industry relies on helicopters for the
transport of supplies, parts, and people out to rigs and
installations. However, Singapore based F-Drones is working to
change that. The Entrepreneur First backed startup is working on
drones that have a combination of heavy payload and long-range
capabilities. Their drone can take-off vertically, fly like a
fixed-wing aircraft, and land on a moving target.
The drone will be theoretically able to make deliveries of up to
100kg to ships and oil rigs. It will be able to carry a 50kg payload
up to 250km and land on a moving target making it a viable
replacement for transporting stores to offshore rigs by helicopter
or to passing ships by launch boat.
Drones for intelligence and situational awareness
The reason the bridge of a ship is usually on one of its highest
decks is that the higher up you are the further you can see. Drones
make it possible to massively increase the field of view for a
vessel or coastal state for search and rescue, intelligence
operations, or just situational awareness. Even in poor visibility,
drones equipped with thermal imaging, radio detection, and other
sensors can "see" well beyond the normal capability of a
ship, VTS, or coastguard station.
The operational intelligence market is the most established
sector for maritime drones. In January 2017, the European Maritime
Safety Agency awarded the largest ever civilian maritime drone
contract. The €67million contract was awarded to Martek Marine,
part of the James Fisher family of companies and is aimed at using
drones to track and trace vessel emissions throughout the EU. U.S
based startup Planck Aerosystems is developing the technology to
make it possible to "drone enable" any ship or truck. With
implications for defence, search and rescue, and situational
awareness, their drones use computer vision to autonomously take off
from and land on moving targets including workboats, ships, and land
Also based in the U.S is drone scaleup Airobotics. Having raised
more than $100million as of December 2018, they are well placed to
push drone technology out to the wider maritime industry. They are
currently focused on a number of verticals including mining, oil and
gas, industrial facilities, and ports.
Airobotics' ports solution helps users to effectively monitor
vessel traffic, gather intelligence for security, and conduct more
effective emergency response and search and rescue. Their capability
includes oil spill detection, equipment monitoring, and inventory
tracking in bulk facilities.
As automation technology advances, even the most complex of
drone operations could be conducted largely without human input,
leaving the end-user free to concentrate on the end goal (search and
rescue, inspection, delivery), rather than on flying. Currently, the
cost of drone technology makes it prohibitive for many use cases,
but both the costs and barriers to entry are dropping fast. If the
current trend continues, it is only a matter of time before drones
are commonplace on commercial ships and offshore installations. "
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