Smooth Sailing For Autonomous Surface Vehicles And Port Optimization In Transportation Hearing

2018-09-17T17:07:24+00:00 September 17, 2018|
(Credit: U.S. Navy)

(Credit: U.S. Navy)

From: Ocean News Weekly/ By: Ocean Leadership Staff 

What It Was

The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee held a hearing titled. “Transportation of Tomorrow: Emerging Technologies That Will Move America.”

Why It Matters

Safe, reliable maritime transportation is critically important to the blue economy and national security. Marine transportation accounts for 20.6 percent of the GDP in the U.S. ocean and Great Lakes economy, yet the transportation system in America is struggling to keep up with the growing ocean economy. There is a need for innovative solutions to enhance the efficiency of this ever-expanding system both commercially and for the public sector. Experts in private sector innovation offered insight on how federal policy opportunities should engage with these emerging transportation technologies to ensure ocean security. 

Key Points

While most of the hearing discussed various forms of land transportation, Mr. David Sanford (Campaigns Lead, Naval Ship Intelligence & Technologies, Rolls Royce Marine North America), discussed the innovative technologies in commercial and naval autonomous (also known as unmanned) surface vessels (ASVs). Senator Gary Peters (MI) noted that many transportation stakeholders think the U.S. marine transportation sector is lagging behind other sectors, such as ground and air, in adopting autonomous systems.

There are two different types of autonomy in ASVs that replace functions typically done by humans on manned vessels: bridge autonomy and ship autonomy. Both types of autonomy would require shore-side remote operating centers run by professional mariners and engineers to oversee vessels at sea and remotely operate the vessels when near port, but the operators would be able to return home after each shift rather than spending months at sea.

Mr. Sanford noted that more than 70 percent of marine accidents are the result of human error or interference and it is expected that ship accidents will be reduced through autonomous systems. Autonomous vehicles’ lower power usage and power demand, and reduced number of systems requiring maintenance at sea could decrease transportation costs by an estimated 20 percent.

Ms. Laurie Tolson (Chief Digital Officer, General Electric (GE) Transportation) spoke about GE Transportation’s partnership with the Port of Los Angeles in the pilot implementation of the Port Optimizer, a digital solution that allows ports to plan for arriving vessels as far as two weeks ahead of arrival. As a result, the Port of Los Angeles was able to increase the flow of goods.

Cybersecurity was an overarching theme as both ASVs and the Port Optimizer require the transmission of large amounts of data, making them vulnerable to hacking. Ms. Tolson stated that protecting data was a top priority and GE would be diligent in evolving their standards alongside increasing physical and digital networks. Mr. Sanford echoed these statements and additionally added that control of an ASV would be transferred to a local authority to prevent the possibility of a third party gaining control of the ASV as it enters U.S. waters.

ASVs and the Port Optimizer still face challenges in the funding, development, and implementation of their technologies. GE is focused on making sure that the Port Optimizer works well before expansion to other ports. ASVs face obstacles in international maritime regulation, export controls, insurance, and increasing communication bandwidth to get information between ASVs and shore side operations.


“…we believe these innovations are coming to a reality, culminating in the development of remote and autonomous shipping that will be safer, more efficient and less expensive to build and operate.” — Mr. David Sanford, Campaigns Lead, Naval Ship Intelligence & Technologies, Rolls Royce Marine North America

“It is critical for the US and the domestic shipping industry to begin developing a roadmap to logically address both the opportunities for and the barriers to the development of medium and large unmanned and autonomous surface vessels.” — Mr. David Sanford, Campaigns Lead, Naval Ship Intelligence & Technologies, Rolls Royce Marine North America

“Many of the transportation stakeholders feel that the U.S. Transportation sector, marine transportation sector, is significantly lagging behind both the ground and air sectors in our country in adapting automation and autonomy.” — Senator Gary Peters (MI)

Find Out More

Watch the full hearing

Related coverage from the Consortium for Ocean Leadership

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