Test field for autonomous ships is taking shape

- CAPTN initiative working toward autonomous passenger ferry in 2022 - Investments in sustainable local and public transportation are an important step toward reducing emissions and counteracting climate change — and Raytheon Anschütz is playing its part in Kiel, Germany.

With more than 100,000 cars going around the Kiel Fjord each day, using inner-city motorways and frequently causing traffic jams and fuel waste, the Clean Autonomous Public Transport Network (CAPTN) began development of environmentally friendly local public transport for the city of Kiel in 2018. Since then, regional research institutions and companies have joined the network — including Raytheon Anschütz, a business of Raytheon Technologies — to bring innovative solutions like autonomous ships to the region.

“Raytheon Anschütz is known for a number of innovations in ship navigation. This exciting project offers the opportunity of developing a new era of safe navigation systems for autonomous ships,” said Daniel Sommerstedt, who is responsible for strategic development and technology road maps at Raytheon Anschütz.

At the heart of the CAPTN initiative will be autonomous passenger ferries that connect the east and west banks of the Kiel Fjord. Thanks to funding from the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure, a test field for a seagoing, autonomously operating experimental vehicle and a 5G digital working environment will be created on the Kiel inner fjord in the next three years.

In 2022, the construction of this test platform will begin. The experimental vehicle, called WAVELAB, will be a 20-meter-long aluminum catamaran, equipped with a navigation bridge, workstations for scientists, and laboratories for data management and processing. It will include extensive sensor and camera systems around the ship, which will be powered by electric motors fed by batteries.

“The WAVELAB test platform and the cooperation with our partners will give us a boost through important knowledge and technologies that will enable us to sustainably expand our range of navigation and system integration. To this end, we will contribute our expertise in the control and monitoring of ships,” Sommerstedt said.

As part of the project, Raytheon Anschütz is developing secure and real-time data communication from ship to ship and ship to shore, and solutions to deliver instant situation awareness and recommendations to the personnel of a shore-based control center, who monitor and control the platform remotely.

Since the steering and control of autonomous ships is a particular challenge, especially in the narrow, busy Kiel Fjord, these innovations also include autonomous navigation and control technology, including assistance functions for collision avoidance, track control and docking.

Under the CAPTN initiative, two government-funded research projects costing a combined 10 million Euro will address the test field. The Förde Areal project is responsible for the test platform and establishing the necessary infrastructure and programming of systems for the first autonomous ship trials. Meanwhile, the Förde 5G project is creating the basis for wireless real-time communication, data management and the implementation of a virtual test field.