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Autonomous Vessels and Internal Communication Systems

Worldwide interest in remotely controlled, and autonomous vessels is increasing, usually in combination with zero emission propulsion systems, and now also with zero emissions on the entire value chain.

illustration of autonomous vessel system and link from vessel to onshore control center
Illustration © Zenitel Maritime & Energy - 2022

Enabled by recent developments in sensor technology, connectivity at sea, analysis, and decision support software, there are now more than 1,000 surface maritime autonomous ships operated by more than 53 organizations worldwide.

The prospective for maritime future goes from completely unmanned ships to land-based control centers, and support systems, which will be able to monitor operations and distribute critical information via IP-enabled network if there is a risk for operational safety or collision.

Why is an onboard internal communication system important for autonomous vessels?

Over the last few years Zenitel, the world-leading provider of intelligent critical-communication solutions, has been involved in a number of interesting projects towards the segment of autonomous technology. Frequently requested systems consist of a small IP-based PAGA system, IP Intercom System, IP-CCTV System, and a Motorola UHF Repeater system, as well as solutions for setting up a LAN, in combination with 4/5G or VSAT systems. 

Access control can also be part of the scope for unmanned vessels, and Zenitel technology provides the ability of both visual and audio control for this purpose. By adding audio and visual access control to the vessel, Zenitel provides access only to those certain areas needed for maintenance and service and denies access to unauthorized people with harmful intentions.

For the first 1-2 years, a semi-autonomous ship would still have a reduced crew onboard for safety measures and operational service. As soon as the vessel does become a fully autonomous vessel, only regular onboard maintenance will be required. In case of emergency or operational risk, the communication link is kept live between the vessel and the onshore control center to inform the onboard service crew, reducing risk for crew and cargo whilst maintenance still can be performed.  

How to solve compliance with regulations for autonomous vessels?

From sensors onboard in an unmanned vessel to the reliable software which guarantees cyber-secure operations — autonomous vessels must comply with national and international maritime rules such as the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). Part of the SOLAS regulation requires the need for onboard general alarm systems and onboard communication systems for emergency events. 

The CCTV systems by Zenitel can also be used for navigational purposes, as well as control of cargo, engine rooms, perimeter control and more. Since the CCTV system is IP-based it can connect with the IP based communication system. If any unwanted events are monitored the onshore control center dispatches an information message through either the intercom or the PAGA system for safe operations and warning.

Zenitel works within a secure set of standards to ensure appropriate and safe implementation of critical onboard communication systems for autonomous vessels. As a worldwide market leader in the onboard communication segment, Zenitel has offered integrated, type-approved, and certified systems for critical communication, data and safety for more than 70 years.  

Vessel Fact Box

VesselYara Birkeland
PropulsionFully Electric autonomous
Azipull pods 2x900 kW
Tunnel thrusters 2x700 kW
Batteries Capacity – 6.8 MWh
DimensionsLOA 80m
Beam 15m
Depth 12m
CapacityCargo 120 TEU
Deadweight 3,200 tons
Zenitel equipment onboardExigo PAGAICX AlphaCom Intercom SystemIP CCTV SystemMotorola UHF Repeater System
Vessel nameASKO Sea Drones
DimensionsLOA 66m
Beam 15m
PropulsionFully Electric Autonomous
Capacity16 full loaded trailers
Zenitel equipment onboardExigo PAGAICX AlphaCom Intercom SystemIP CCTV SystemMotorola UHF Repeater System