Iridium ties up with Rolls-Royce Marine on autonomous vessels

Satellite communications provider Iridium Communications is tying up with Rolls-Royce Marine (RRM) to develop autonomous vessels.

The signing of a Letter of Intent (LOI) will see Iridium supporting the smart shipping pioneer in its autonomous vessel development programme, with the two companies working together to explore incorporating Iridium's next-generation L-band satellite broadband service, Iridium Certus, into the RRM suite of Ship Intelligence solutions.  By doing so, RRM will have a resilient and reliable broadband capability that can serve as a standalone option or high throughput backup, while expanding the reach of autonomous vessels to all the world's waterways.

As a leader in the autonomous vessel movement, RRM's solutions deliver multifaceted enhancements to ships, enabling remote diagnostics, operations and performance monitoring capabilities.  Automation of certain routine operational areas such as navigation is billed as a way to enable crews to focus on more valuable areas of vessel operations in turn helping to streamline overall functionality, and ushering in a new digital era of shipping.

RRMs solutions provide remote access to onshore operators and control centers, delivering real-time connectivity and automation. This is a strategic part of the maritime industry's future, with autonomous ships being evaluated by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), where they are defining the regulatory environment and degrees of autonomy for Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships.

The capabilities offered by Iridium Certus will help streamline management of vessel operations, whether for command and control, engine diagnostics, tracking information and other onboard processes for a simple, secure and reliable experience.

“When evaluating partners for our remote and autonomous vessel development programmes and Ship Intelligence solutions, Iridium is complementing our connectivity strategy for a number of reasons," said Kenneth Solberg, technical product manager, Ship Intelligence, Rolls-Royce Marine.

Read More: IMO to set up taskforce on autonomous ships

"Their new interconnected Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite network is able to provide global coverage with low latencies for both coastal and ocean going vessels, while at the same time having the robustness of the L-band. And being an actor with truly global coverage, including polar regions, vessel owners will have the confidence that wherever they sail their ship, it will stay connected. The small form-factor antennas and terminals enabled by Iridium Certus have no moving parts, reducing the risk of breakdowns, and are built to withstand the harsh conditions at sea. The journey of enabling Iridium Certus to be compliant with RR remote and autonomous operational requirements, sets the stage for an exciting offering that we look forward to begin exploring," he concluded.

Iridium operates the world's largest, and only pole-to-pole, mobile commercial satellite constellation comprised of 66 crosslinked LEO satellites that give global coverage.

"Enabling the digitalization of shipping is at the core of our strategy for our maritime business, and we are proud to begin exploring this opportunity with Rolls-Royce Marine," said Wouter Deknopper, vp and gm of Maritime at Iridium. "Iridium's constellation is an ideal network to support autonomous vessels, due to its inherent resiliency, mobility and truly global coverage.  Supporting RRM's revolutionary autonomous vessel initiative is a natural and exciting next step that we are fully equipped to take."

Posted 31 August 2018

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Vincent Wee

Asia Editor, Seatrade Maritime News

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