The test was conducted over an almost four-hour period during which the supply ship was driven through a series of maneuvers at both high and low speeds.

A test vessel was in the North Sea while being remote control navigated from 5,000 miles away at Wärtsilä’s San Diego office. Finnish technology group Wärtsilä successfully tested the remote control of a supply ship’s operations in late August by driving the vessel through a sequence of maneuvers, the company confirmed Sept. 1.The test was conducted over an almost four-hour period during which the vessel was driven through a series of maneuvers at both high and low speeds, Wärtsilä said. All the test procedures that were carried out went as planned, according to the company. The trial was carried out Aug. 21 off the North Sea coast of Scotland in collaboration with Houston-based marine transport services company Gulfmark Offshore, which provided the vessel for the project. Wärtsilä previously supplied three of Gulfmark Offshore’s ‘Highland’ series of vessels with various products, systems and solutions, as well as dynamic positioning systems to several other vessel series within the company’s fleet. 

Although the test vessel was in the North Sea, the remote control navigating was carried out from 5,000 miles away at Wärtsilä’s San Diego office, the company said. A combination of manual joystick control and dynamic positioning, the computer-controlled system to automatically maintain a vessel’s position and heading, were used during the test, according to Wärtsilä.

The company has said that its dynamic positioning unit developed remote control capabilities in early 2016, but this was the first test carried out on an offshore vessel. The vessel, the Highland Chieftain, is an 80-meter (262-foot) platform supply vessel already fitted with a Wärtsilä navigation, automation and dynamic positioning systems package, as well as a Wärtsilä drives package. Additional software was also temporarily added to the dynamic positioning system for the test, in order to route data over the vessel’s satellite link to the onshore work station in California.

“The Wärtsilä testing was carried out using standard bandwidth onboard satellite communication,” Wärtsilä confirmed in a statement. “No land-based technology was used for the communications between the vessel and the remote operator work station.” “One of the first and most critical hurdles to overcome along the path to the enablement of intelligent shipping is to develop efficient and reliable remote control and monitoring capabilities, taking factors such as bandwidth limitations and cyber security into consideration,” Wärtsilä Marine Solutions Head of Digital Andrea Morgante said. “This test provides a clear indication that we are well on the way to achieving this.”

Wärtsilä said it anticipates that development of successful re mote access to ships will also enable virtual service solutions to customers needing tuning or testing of their DP systems, as well as other pilot projects, like automated docking.