Wärtsilä Refits Classic Laker With Semi-Autonomous Navigation

Copyright Rand-ASC

Published Jan 14, 2021 10:03 PM by The Maritime Executive

American Steamship Company and Wärtsilä are breaking new ground with a hands-off, self-driving, self-docking navigation sytem installed on a traditional lake freighter. According to Wärtsilä, the 24,000 GT American Courage is the largest ship ever to perform automatic dock-to-dock operation.

Wärtsilä's Voyage division installed its first commercial SmartMove Suite navigation system aboard the 42-year-old laker American Courage in March 2020. The self-discharging vessel is 630 feet long and operates on Ohio's winding Cuyahoga River. This waterway can be very congested, and Wärtsilä says that it is easily the most challenging route for any vessel using automated sailing and docking technology today. 

"Advanced decision support systems, such as Wärtsilä SmartMove, bring value because they can automate the repetitive tasks, such as docking on repeated itineraries," said Wärtsilä Voyage's John J. Marshall. "This is not about going captain-free, rather, enhancing the capabilities of onboard crew as they traverse shuttle routes, congested or restricted areas."

The suite comes with redundant controllers and displays, along with an array of sensors (including a gyro, motion reference unit, anemometer and GNSS). This is connected to a single digital platform. The core blocks of software that make it function are derived from Wärtsilä Voyage’s DP products, which have been in use for many years in the offshore sector. 

The version of the system installed aboard American Courage uses the surrounding environment for vessel positioning, making it ship-based rather than on shore, according to Pierre Pelletreau of Rand-ASC Holdings, American Steamship's parent company. It is designed to meet the firm's requirement for a position margin of less than two meters.

“We are effectively making each component 'smart' so that the ship itself becomes the sum of the parts and is capable of working as efficiently and smartly as possible,” said Thomas Pedersen, director of automation and DP for Wärtsilä Voyage.