Maritime contractor Van Oord has placed a new order with Demcon unmanned systems; this time for a larger unmanned, autonomous offshore platform. This vessel is suitable for challenging offshore conditions and weekslong survey operations at sea. The use of these electric unmanned vessels enables Van Oord to make their operations more sustainable, work more safely and optimally deploy its employees.
Demcon unmanned systems develops and builds unmanned, autonomously vessel platforms for survey and inspection activities in inland, coastal and offshore environments. Van Oord has already had good experience with the electrically powered survey vessels for hydrographical inspections on inland waters, with the DUS V2500 models. With this order, the maritime contractor is moving towards unmanned offshore surveys.
The new vessel can be used in support of dredging operations, installing offshore windfarms and constructing maritime infrastructure. “The autonomous offshore inspection platform is with 6 meters in size a magnitude larger than the DUS V2500 model, must be able to sail at sea for several weeks and will incorporate new autonomous applications for unmanned offshore operations,” says Fedor Ester, managing director of Demcon unmanned systems. “It contains our standardized and modular autonomous navigation system. We design and scale the hull, power and propulsion around this system based on client-specific performance criteria. Moreover, we will be adding new functionalities to better suit operational requirements.” This will become the DUS V5750 model. “An easy to use vessel that can stand on land without any auxiliary aids and fits into a 20-foot container. The vessel will be delivered to Van Oord within one year. After that, we will continuously upgrade the vessel and autonomous navigation system software. This way, together with Van Oord, we will be improving the autonomous navigation and increasing the vessel’s range of applications over its lifetime.”
Until recently, survey and inspection activities were primarily carried out using manned vessels. Anticipating the reality of digitalization, sustainability and safety, Van Oord was looking for autonomous survey solutions. Wim Balvert, responsible for the management and innovation of all survey equipment at Van Oord: “We began working with Demcon unmanned systems to develop a comprehensive solution. They assessed the technology used on our manned survey vessels and designed unmanned vessels for this purpose.”
The initial result was the VO:X Metiri (first DUS V2500 vessel), a robust and compact inspection platform measuring a mere 2.5 meters for use on inland waters and in coastal areas. With these 100% electric, autonomous vessels, Van Oord is able to perform survey activities remotely, cost-efficiently and in an automated manner. Van Oord’s initial experience was so positive that it has since acquired four of these vessels and also perceived potential applications for a larger, seaworthy version.
The existing Demcon situational awareness system – ‘where am I and what do I see around me?’ – will be expanded for navigation at sea. It operates at short distances (150 meters) and in complex enclosed environments using, amongst others, 360-degree laser scanning technology with LiDAR sensors. Different types of cameras, radar and electronic navigation chart data will be used to look further away and in different weather conditions. Smart algorithms process and fuse the information of all of these sensors and sources into a digital world model of the environment surrounding the vessel.
The DUS collision avoidance system ensures that obstacles are identified and decides how to avoid them in compliance with the rules that apply to sailing on water.
In addition, the communication system will be expanded. The current vessels use a redundant WLAN and an LTE (4G/5G) datalink. The DUS V5750 models will be supplemented with satellite communications. Ester: “This means that the vessel will have a multi redundant communications capability. To ensure that the vessel is robust, all systems must have a backup so that the vessel can always safely return home autonomously in case of distress.”
Inspection of cable laying
A third innovation is specifically intended for the first survey application Van Oord has in mind. The inspection (“touchdown monitoring”) of cables being laid from and to offshore windfarms. Ester: “A cable laying vessel slowly sails along and needs to be followed by a survey vessel. Depending on weather conditions this can be challenging and inefficient from a technical sailing perspective. We will be developing a weather dependent Dynamic Positioning functionality for this purpose. This functionality ensures that the vessel’s nose is pointed in the direction of wind, currents and waves to provide for the least possible resistance. It is therefore possible that the vessel will be following the cable laying vessel in a lateral position. While this may seem like an unnatural angle, this is more efficient and not a problem due to our own innovative Dynamic Positioning system.”
The vessel is virtually unsinkable due to its watertight, segmented and self-righting hull. This enables the system to remain operational in severe conditions and high waves. Ester: “During the design and building process we constantly validate the vessel’s performance in our ‘sea-keeping’ simulation environment.” This vessel platform must be able to sail much longer at sea than in inland water applications. The DUS V5750 will therefore have more batteries and if this is not sufficient, a hybrid system can further extend the time and range at sea up to thirty days.
Optimal deployment of people
In addition to cable laying, Balvert also sees other opportunities for Van Oord, such as support for coastal sand replenishment or support for the deployment of drones for the inspection of windmills. “The use of Demcon’s electric unmanned vessels enables us to make our operations more sustainable, work more safely and optimally deploy our employees. On a manned vessel, surveyors sail along to a project, while on an autonomous vessel they only engage remotely if their expertise is required.”
About Demcon unmanned systems
Demcon unmanned systems builds high-tech electric, unmanned autonomous vessels for all kinds of waters and various maritime applications. Demcon unmanned systems develops its own unmanned platforms, as well as autonomous navigation technologies. Enables customers to conduct maritime operations and data acquisition at lower operating costs and in a safe, automated and sustainable manner. Demcon unmanned systems is a partner for unmanned vessels, from development and building to maintenance, upgrades and service. As independent company it is part of the international Demcon group (900 employees). The Demcon group develops, produces and supplies technology and innovative products. The Demcon group has multiple locations in the Netherlands, Germany, Japan and Singapore. Whether it concerns medical systems, systems that monitor our security or sustainable innovations relating to themes such as water and energy, Demcon makes a contribution for current and future generations. In addition to developing technical solutions, Demcon also focuses its efforts on promoting entrepreneurship and investing in talent and education.