Named Falco, the 53.8 metre double-ended car ferry entered service in 1993. Equipped with twin azimuth thrusters from Rolls-Royce, its autonomous navigation skills have recently been demonstrated in the archipelago south of the city of Turku, Finland.
Falco is composed of Rolls-Royce Ship intelligence technologies, allowing it to successfully navigate it's way during the demonstrative voyage beween Nauvo and Parainen. Sensor fusion and artificial intelligence were used to detect objects in the ferry's path and perform collision avoidance. It was also able to automatically berth, making use of its autonomous navigation system. Whilst there was a crew aboard, they did not contribute to the journey or berthing.
Falco has a wide range of advanced sensors, which have the ability to create a picture of the ferrys surroundings in real time with a level of accuracy beyond the human eye. Sensor data is relayed to Finferries' remote operating centre 50km away in Turku city centre. A captain monitors the autonomous operations from there and can take control at any time if he feels it necessary. It should be noted that on the journey back the ferry was directed by remote control, suggesting that specific routes need to be programmed into the navigation system and it cannot improvise a journey. This also alludes to the fact that the technology is not quite ready for public use, but hopefully it will be very soon.
The President of Rolls-Royce Marine Division, Mikael Mäkinen, has said:
"Today marks a huge step forward in the journey towards autonomous shipping and reaffirms exactly what we have been saying for several years, that autonomous shipping will happen. The SVAN project has been a successful collaboration between Rolls-Royce and Finferries and an ideal opportunity to showcase to the world how Ship Intelligence technology can bring great benefits in the safe and efficient operation of ships.
This is a very proud moment for all of us and marks our most significant milestone so far. Today’s demonstration proves that the autonomous ship is not just a concept, but something that will transform shipping as we know it."
Mats Rosin, the CEO of Finferries expanded with;
"We are very proud that maritime history has been made on the Parainen-Nauvo-route once again. First with our world-renowned hybrid vessel Elektra and now Falco as the world’s first autonomous ferry. As a modern ship-owner our main goal in this cooperation has been on increasing safety in marine traffic as this is beneficial for both the environment and our passengers. But we are also equally excited about how this demonstration opens the door to the new possibilities of autonomous shipping and safety."
This demonstration of the world’s first remote and autonomous ferry isn’t just a groundbreaking achievement, it’s also an insight into the possibilities that await other ship owners (including RoRo freight ferries) around the world.