The EU has made millions of euros available in marine technology funding grants to support research and innovation.
The marine technology funding, issued under Horizon 2020’s Mobility for Growth call for 2018 to 2020, will prioritise three key areas of research: ‘smart’ and autonomous shipping; the development of autonomous vessels to conduct underwater surveying; and accident response systems to shore up maritime safety.
Unmanned vessels are in their infancy as a technology; but Horizon 2020 recognises the potential of autonomous shipping to reduce the risk to crew members and increase both profitability and journey efficiency.
Horizon 2020’s Work Programme, which details the criteria for allocation of marine technology funding, says: “Whilst the first autonomous prototypes are being deployed, important regulatory and technical challenges remain. Due to the regulatory environment applicable to intercontinental shipping, the first adopters will operate only within national water of a single country or several countries subject to specific agreement. Consequently the first connected and autonomous services are expected to concern inland waterways, short sea shipping, ferries, coastal operations and urban water transport. The challenge is to now develop and demonstrate integrated automation technologies within a real environment.”
Underwater surveying conducted by manned vessels is typically expensive, with manned vessels on the surface of the water towing the submarine surveying equipment. By contrast, autonomous underwater surveying vessels should have the capability to operate for long periods of time over a wide area, with minimal external support.
The Work Programme says: “Recent developments in autonomous technology enables the potential possibility of an underwater vehicle which can operate with a high level of independence and survey large areas without the cost of an accompanying support vessel. Such technology would revolutionise and massively reduce the cost of large area marine seabed surveys and as a result greatly increase our knowledge of the world’s oceans (e.g. seabed survey[ing], fish stock assessment, surveillance, etc).”
Accident response systems
The Horizon 2020 Work Programme highlights a number of recurring safety hazards on passenger and container ships, including fires and flooding; and notes: “The specific challenge is to develop solutions that address these risks and which can be reflected within forthcoming revisions of relevant IMO Rules. International cooperation to draw upon global experience and facilitate common positions that are founded upon joint research is considered particularly valuable.”