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EU funding to help businesses meet challenges in marine tech.

By Matt Hodson, Marine Hub Operations Director, Cornwall Development Company

The EU has recently announced a new round of multi-million pound grant funding that is available to address three of its priority areas within marine technology development. Each of these three areas has a significant role to play in our ocean-based activities of the future.

The marine technology businesses that can help solve these challenges could generate massive growth for their company in the years ahead.

The autonomous ship or “smart ship”

It is expected that autonomous ships will be a hugely disruptive technology that will transform the industry in the future. Rolls Royce have been active in this area for a number of years and recently announced a partnership with Google to integrate AI and machine learning into their smart ship technology.

Compared to conventional ships, autonomous ships have the potential to be more efficient, more profitable, safer, and to have core functions such as maintenance carried out automatically. Fleets of autonomous ships could be controlled by shore based control centres. It is believed that autonomous cargo ships could be 20% less expensive to run than conventional cargos ships.

However, the technology is still at the prototype stage and major challenges need to be overcome before it can be commercialised. The regulatory environment will have to change to cope with the new world of autonomous ships. Thorough sea trials need to be carried to prove navigation and docking systems and collision avoidance.

All the complex onboard systems must be demonstrated to work effectively without the intervention of a crew. The safety systems have to be developed and fine-tuned and there needs to be advanced cyber-security to maintain robust ship to shore communication and defend against cyber-attack.

Because of the complexities involved in setting up international operations, it is believed that the first autonomous vessels are likely to operate in relatively short-range routes, such as inland waterways, coastal operations, short sea routes or ferry crossings.

Autonomous vessels for surveying the sea bed

While autonomous ships will change the way we work on the surface of the oceans, there is a great need for new technology to help us explore the world beneath the waves. If we are to utilise the vast potential offered by our oceans, then we need to radically improve the amount of survey information that we have about the sea bed in remote locations.

To date, this kind of survey work has mainly been done by manned surface vessels towing a range of sensor and sonar equipment behind them, which makes it a costly exercise. The development of an autonomous undersea vehicle which could operate independently for extended periods of time and sweep over vast areas of the ocean bed could lead to massive cost savings and a vast increase in the quantity and quality of survey data. This would greatly improve our understanding of the world’s oceans and how they can be responsibly used.

What would be the key features of such a vehicle? It would need to be able to operate for long periods without the need for a support vessel. It would have a power supply and propulsion system that could run for several months without needing recharging or refuelling. It would be cost effective to deploy in remote locations (such as the capability to be deployed by air). It would have the latest and most sophisticated survey and sensor equipment. It would have powerful and secure data transmission systems. It would also feature state of the art location beacons to aid recovery of the vehicle.

Marine accident response systems

Modern shipping has seen a steady increase in the size of vessels, whether they be passenger ships, cargo and container vessels, of ferries. It is therefore vital that we continue to improve the systems that we have in place to deal with accidents at sea.

There is a need for further research and testing to be carried out on passenger ships to control damage and to maximise stability of the vessel following a grounding incident or contact damage, such as a collision. As part of this, new work must be done to optimise the operation of watertight doors and evaluate their benefits versus their risks.

The next generation of evacuation systems and life saving systems for passenger ships has to be created. These must be able to evacuate large numbers of people quickly and safely, in extreme weather conditions. They also should be “deskilled” so that they are straightforward to operate.

Prevention and management of fires at sea remains a crucial area of focus for new marine technologies. As well as new methods to prevent fires occurring, if a fire does break out then it is vital that the crew have the technology they need to contain and extinguish the fire themselves, without requiring external help and support. Two specific types of vessels where increased innovation is needed of fire safety and control are roro ferries and container ships.

Rising to the challenge

These are just three examples of the huge range of opportunities being presented to innovative marine technology businesses, as our understanding of the full potential offered by our oceans continues to grow. Both large and small marine technology businesses can benefit from the increasing demand for creative thinking and clever engineering solutions to solve these new challenges.

Find out more about the EU grants that are available for these three areas at the links below and speak to our team at Marine-i to discover how we can help you.

The autonomous ship

Autonomous survey vessel

Marine accident response