driverless ferry

Driverless ferries, which could replace footbridges, being tested

Image credit: NTNU

Driverless ferries are being tested in Trondheim in Norway that can ‘see’ kayakers and boats, and could eventually be a substitute for footbridges.

The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) has built and tested a prototype of the electric ferry and they now plan to refine its anti-collision properties and teach it situational awareness.

NTNU has been working with autonomous vessel management systems for years, but training a computer to predict movements and to read complex traffic scenarios at this level of detail is a new development.

“This is a high-technology twist to creating connections across the water. We believe emission-free ferries can help improve urban residents’ quality of life,” said NTNU associate professor Egil Eide.

“Driverless ferries can help develop regions that previously haven’t been linked to cities and towns due to a lack of infrastructure, for example.”

The plan has the first autonomous electric ferry crossing the Trondheim channel between Ravnkloa and Vestre Kanalhavn. The distance is just under 100 metres, and the crossing takes a mere one minute but will save pedestrians a 10-15 minute walk.

The ferry prototype has been tested in the channel with good results and the proposed full-scale ferry will be able to take at least 12 passengers, plus bicycles and baby strollers. It will charge its batteries while docking as passengers disembark and board the craft.

Phase one of the Autoferry project was to monitor boat traffic in the canal. In phase two, a half-scale ferry (five metres) was built, and the propulsion systems, batteries and charging systems were tested.

Researchers are also working on developing navigation systems and automatic docking, as well as testing anti-collision sensors.

The phase three launch is imminent and will involve putting the full-scale ferry into action and fine-tuning the technology.

“We’re using four different sensors: radar, an infrared camera, an optical camera and lidar. This will be a robust system of sensors that complement each other and provide a good overview,” said NTNU associate professor Edmund Brekke.

“One of the challenges of the project is that all these systems need to work well together. We also want to have sensors on land that can monitor blind zones,” adds department head Morten Breivik, who is directing the Autoferry project.

Providing a good user experience is one aspect that the researchers will focus on now in the final part of phase two, as well as in phase three.

The driverless ferry will be on-demand and users will be able to summon it by pressing a call button.

The researchers are also looking into its cyber-security features to ensure that it can’t be hacked and want the ferry technology to be scalable so that it can be used over longer distances and be useful in more rural areas.

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