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Artificial intelligence drives autonomous ship project at Stena Line

Swedish ferry operator plans to cut costs and become more environmentally friendly by operating autonomous ships

Swedish shipping company Stena Line is expanding the reach of artificial intelligence (AI) as a fuel-efficiency and cost-saving tool within the transport group’s shipping fleet.

Initial pilot tests have produced promising results, indicating that AI/digital technologies have the potential to revolutionise how ships operate. AI-supported automation trials have delivered cost savings and ship operational efficiencies.

Stena plans to expand the use of AI to cut fuel costs on its vessels, and digitisation to enhance productivity across the group.  

There is an appetite for this in the Nordic region. Ericsson and Telia are collaborating to develop so-called “AI Captain” technologies to automate ships’ steering and guidance systems. The two companies have formed a technology alliance with the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NUST) to pilot an AI Captain system aboard the MilliAmpère, a passenger ferry that operates on short routes around Trondheim harbour.

The pilot is using an AI-supported automation system modelled on 5G-enabled driverless transport. It uses Ericsson 5G technology to achieve upload speeds of over 200Mbps and download speeds above 1Gbps, said Egil Eide, associate professor at NUST’s Department of Electronic Systems.

“Data is key to this pilot project,” said Eide. “It is analysed so that the vessel is able to navigate safely and avoid obstacles. The system can measure the distance to the quay to allow the boat to safely moor itself. In the event of a sea emergency, the vessel can also be remotely controlled from a command centre using the operating mobile network.”

The self-driving MilliAmpère is equipped with sensors that record its surroundings and interact with the ship’s onboard steering system. This generates large amounts of data, which is communicated to the command centre in real time.

As part of the pilot project, the MilliAmpère is being used to transport passengers across Trondheim’s harbour canal. Telia’s data management system is working off Ericsson’s 5G technology to enable the data transfers required to support the autonomous ship. NUST’s primary role is to develop the ship’s control and auxiliary systems.

Jon Christian Hillestad, head of Telia’s enterprise business unit in Norway, said: “This pilot offers a very good example of how AI and 5G can be used for something quite concrete. Autonomous vehicles rely on superfast real-time data transmission and need both secure connection to the network and low latency, which is characteristic of 5G.”

Read more about artificial intelligence in the Nordics

The use of AI to predict optimum fuel efficiency has been successfully tested in a trial run by the Stena Line Group. AI software was initially installed on the Stena Scandinavica, which operates on Stena’s Gothenburg to Kiel route, in 2018. 

Gothenburg-headquartered Stena is looking to AI technologies to reduce energy costs by enhancing fuel efficiency on its ships. In the trial, fuel consumption on the Stena Scandinavica was cut by 2-3% per trip. The company now plans to use the same technology on more of its vessels in a bolt-on project led by Stena’s AI department.

Stena’s fuel pilot AI software trial is linked to the company’s target of reducing fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 2.5% a year. Fuel is one of Stena’s biggest operating expenses, and is expected to account for about 20% of the group’s total costs in 2019.

The AI software in the fuel pilot trial is being installed on five other Stena Line ships, and the company plans to complete a fleet-wide roll-out of the technology on its 37 vessels in Europe during 2020, said Jari Virtanen, Stena’s chief transformation officer.

“Our ambition is for Stena to become the world’s first cognitive ferry company, assisted by AI in all areas by 2021,” said Virtanen. “This project is using AI technology to support our captains and officers to save fuel. By improving efficiency, we reduce both our costs and our environmental footprint.”

Stena has brought in AI systems specialist Semcon to work with its AI department to develop and deliver a broad range of AI-driven data management systems. These are largely based on advanced innovations in AI, data mining and information architecture and will be used in Stena’s existing and future shipping projects.

Semcon’s agreement with Stena is focused on developing smart data management systems tailored to meet Stena’s new digital implementations and AI needs going forward, said Lars Carlsson, head of AI at Stena.

“Our ultimate ambition is to become the world’s first cognitive ferry operator using AI throughout the entire organisation,” he said. “To reach this target, we must structure all our data and intelligence and make it available. This may also involve financial and operational data.”

AI helps investment process

Elsewhere in the Nordics, finance firm EQT is taking a long-term view of using AI to enhance its core venture capital business. The Stockholm-based private equity group has developed the AI-driven Motherbrain proprietary tool to transform its investment process. Specifically, EQT is using Motherbrain to help it to identify attractive domestic and cross-border investments for its EQT Ventures II fund.

Motherbrain is managed as a startup within EQT. The AI-supported resource is calibrated to keep track of millions of companies daily, and enable EQT’s advisory teams to assess companies more quickly while delivering improved assessment accuracy on individual targets. The self-learning platform is involved in prioritising and evaluating all potential investments, and is deeply integrated throughout the EQT Ventures II fund’s sourcing process.

Meanwhile, Finnish elevator giant Kone is also harnessing AI. It is combining AI and other digital technologies in its new cost-efficiency-enhanced Kone DX Class elevator system. Kone DX Class digital elevators are the first of their kind on the global market to comprise built-in digital connectivity and connectable apps as standard.

Tomio Pihkala, executive vice-president of Kone’s new equipment business unit, said the launch flags the firm’s deepening innovation-led investment interest in driving “smart elevators for smart buildings” technologies.

“We are merging the technologies of tomorrow with the buildings of today,” said Pihkala. “We see this as putting the ‘smart’ into smart buildings. Our operations are changing profoundly towards a platform business. This means combining products and services over the lifetime of a building. This is a very powerful initiative.”

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