The IMarEST Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) Special Interest Group on the future of transport for maritime autonomy and remote operations.
The ongoing development of autonomous and remote operations technology alongside steps for introduction into the marine environment is a real hot topic in the maritime sector. In recognising the need to ensure that UK law keeps pace, the UK Department for Transport ran a public consultation on the 'future of transport regulatory review for maritime autonomy and remote operations' which invited comments on what is needed to ensure the safe, secure, and environmentally sound operation of remotely operated and autonomous vessels. Members from the IMarEST MASS Special Interest Group (SIG) contributed and its Chair, Gordon Meadow, shares the SIG's key takeaways:
As new developments gain momentum, there is a need to separate hype from the real drivers of a technology's commercial promise. Automation and technology adoption should be used as a tool in achieving our goals, not as the goal itself. It’s important to highlight that the future of MASS is all about the people and the needs of the maritime workforce as the industry moves forward. Long-term thinking is imperative given the rapidity and complexity of change today, and the MASS SIG aims to raise awareness of new advancements in technologies and regulations as well as identifying skills gaps and what is needed to prepare the youth of today to meet the challenges being faced tomorrow.
- International organisations such as IMO and ISO have been working on definitions relating to MASS, and it will be important to maintain consistency across organisations and regulators in order to avoid confusion within the industry or repetition of work. Definitions should also ensure clarity when dealing with any terminology with legal and regulatory use.
- Clear definitions for autonomous and remote vessels needs to be clarified in the first instance. As an uncrewed or unmanned vessel is by definition a vessel, then the same roles will be needed as on a crewed vessel, it is just that they are managed differently. Uncrewed vessel operators must have an understanding of the wider maritime world.
- Software performance should be considered as well as the process, especially where autonomous functions are in play. To only approve a process would be a weak link in the chain and the complex software interactions and reversion testing should also be part of the release process.
- Novel technologies are handled within existing procedures, and it is typically accepted that there are sufficient type approvals in place for existing equipment. This issue however can have mixed views across the industry. There are some views that a type approval approach would face challenges owing to the rapid development of technology and its lifespan. However, other views stress it would be difficult to continue with this approach as the industry is still in a research and development phase rather than fully operational. Software management is essential, in a similar manner to management of physical vessel characteristics.
- The operational envelope must first be defined; a remote control centre would encompass a broad range of capabilities as well as a range of potential remote locations. There will also be a range of specific functions and responsibilities in the remote control centre. These activities will need to be defined in terms of what will make up remote operations/what is expected of operators considering each individual role and from this task statements can be understood.
- Depending on the vessel type and/or level of autonomy, there may be more complex operations, requiring different technical skillsets and a different number of personnel.
- The industry can draw down on the new knowledge skills and abilities to perform a gap analysis to benchmark between the existing workforce skills and the new skill set requirements. This will be important to be able to map and categorise the consequence of new skills brought in by the impact of technology.
4. Equality, Diversity and Inclusion
- Remote and autonomous operations may provide wider opportunities for gender balancing as well facilitate career opportunities for those sections of society which may not have been in a position to consider a career in maritime before and may also offer new options for introducing new opportunities for individuals with protected characteristics.
To become a corresponding member of this SIG, log into your My IMarEST account, click on My Special Interest Groups and then tick the boxes of the SIGs you’d like to join. You can then also join the group on Nexus, our networking platform.
Gordon Meadow, CMarTech FIMarEST, is Chair of Marine Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) Special Interest Group.