Autonomous case from Wärtsilä: Sailing straight and true on Crooked River

Picture: © ASC-Rand Holdings LLC

A waterway named ‘Crooked River’ by Native Americans may not seem like the natural place to test navigational technology. But while other vessel autonomy trials seek out calm and quiet stretches of open water, Great Lakes shipowner American Steamship Company (ASC) had a different idea. The result was a challenging testbed for Wärtsilä Voyage’s SmartMove suite and a pioneering deployment of intelligent navigation systems.

The five-mile stretch of Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River between Lake Erie and the steel mill at Cleveland East was not built using a plumb line. Its numerous sharp bends host 22 bridges, various other manmade obstacles and wildly varying currents. On the way the ship must navigate bottlenecks caused by high commercial and pleasure traffic. One false move and it would be easy for vessels to run aground, crash into bridges or building or collide with other river users. And with a nearby population of around two million, few errors go unnoticed – especially if made by a bulk carrier loaded with 24,300 tonnes of iron ore.

As the American Courage case highlights, SmartMove can upgrade existing vessels to dramatically improve safety, efficiency and productivity on the water. The technology enables ship owners to modernize their fleets at a fraction of the cost of a newbuilding or extensive refit. The aim is not to replace crew but to enhance their capabilities as they traverse shuttle routes, congested or restricted areas. When vessels must operate twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, automated dock-to-dock transit can help to ensure that every trip is conducted safely.

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