The goal of the a-Navigation project is to implement legal and technical conditions for the widespread operation of MASS (maritime autonomous surface ships) by consumers.


Although autonomous shipping is becoming increasingly popular and much of the technology is already in place, we have yet to achieve global adoption of this kind of operations. The lack of a clear long-term approach to autonomous shipping has been the main obstacle to the use of MASS. Also, it has been the ground for the false perception that autonomous ships would be an uncontrollable and unpredictable new factor in the historically established and understood practice of shipping. So, this is something that we, at MARINET and along with our partners, have attempted to address through our a-Navigation project.


Our planned roadmap is one that offers simple and gradual practical first steps that supposes three stages of autonomous shipping development: coexistence, transition, and prominence.


• At the Coexistence stage, automatic and remotely controlled vessels shall be operated along with the ongoing use of traditionally crewed vessels within the framework of the existing regulation. The main driver of a-Navigation use at this stage is improving safety; that is, to reduce the impact of the human factor while simultaneously increasing control over the work of the crew on board by shipping companies. At the same time, automation of routine functions and better situational awareness and control will reduce the burden on crewmembers and the required manning on board vessels. The main barrier at this stage is the coexistence of MASS with traditional ships, and we have addressed this by using the developed principle of Complete Functional Equivalence (CFE).


• At the Transition stage, the expansion of MASS numbers and operation area will lead to the emergence of lines and entire water areas where mainly autonomous ships will be used, allowing for certain water areas and traffic separation systems to naturally be designated as only or mainly for autonomous ships. It will provide further opportunities to transfer functions from human to computing systems and remove some of the current regulation requirements. The reduction of these requirements together with economies of scale will lead to further operation cost reductions for MASS. Transition would also spur the creation of new specific forms of organisation, such as control centres or services for MASS based on e-Navigation, as well as the adoption of special regulations for MASS reflecting the capabilities and specifics of a-Navigation computer systems.


• At the Prominence stage, MASS operation will be expanded and will cover all major transport routes globally with the model and regulation of maritime transport as MASS-focused. Since transportation by MASS will be cheaper and safer, older ships will naturally move to niches where MASS use is likely to be impossible or economically unprofitable. These may include areas with a small volume of traffic, or regions with extremely unpredictable weather and climatic conditions. The overwhelming majority of seafarers will work either in navigation control centres or in emergency teams, which will also radically change the quality of working conditions and make traditionally crewed ships an exception.

 

 


 

 

 

Complete Functional Equivalence principle is the solution for the coexistence of MASS and traditional ships at the first stage. It supposes that in the autonomous mode we strictly fulfill the functions prescribed today for the crew on board by the current safety regulation.


CFE is the common denominator for MASS and traditional vessels. CFE presupposes that in autonomous mode we strictly fulfill only the functions prescribed for crew on board by current safety regulation, thereby acting as a common denominator for MASS and traditional vessels. This therefore guarantees that MASS, when interacting with other actors, will be guided by and perform well-known and mandatory for functions. This makes MASS operation predictable and understandable for everyone, removing fears of unpredictable AI systems. At the same time, it also allows for MASS operation to fit within the existing framework of international regulation as is, without requiring any immediate change pre-implementation.


In order to implement this principle, the project identified key functions provided for by SOLAS-74, the STCW Code, and COLREGs-72, as well as other regulations. We assessed the feasibility, limitations and expediency of automatic and remote control for each of these.


   Much like the MUNIN project, we proceeded from the notion that for the most adequate control methods should be assessed on the basis of existing conditions and distinct tasks and then used. As a result, our proposed endeavor does not begin with the assumption of a totally unmanned vessel at the very outset.


For example, this includes the possibility of fully automatic or remote-controlled mode on the high seas with a crewmember on board able to take over in extremely difficult or emergency situations. Similarly, in emergency situations in which the officer in charge without a master must immediately notify the master in accordance with the STCW Code (Part A, Chapter VIII - Watchkeeping), which then must be carried out by the master or the pilot on board.


Guiding each of the automated functions is the implementation of a simple requirement; that is, to fulfill it strictly and in an amount no less than that currently provided by the crew on board.

 

 


 

 


Based on our functional approach and the results of the MUNIN Project we have developed the following system architecture. It is represented by:


• Mandatory traditional systems such as navigation devices, actuators and engineering systems, signaling and communication systems


• Traditional automated systems such as engine and technical control, track following systems, auto pilot and speed pilot


• Development of new systems which include an Automated Navigation System (ANS), Optical Surveillance and Analysis System (OSA), Remote Control Station (RCS), Internal CCTV with "smart" functions and human interfaces to a-Nav systems on the bridge known as the Bridge Advisor (the latter is capable of working as a decision support system for manual control as well).

   

 

 


 

 

 
ANS performs the functions of automatic analysis of the environment, the passage along a given route (in automatic mode and remote control mode), offering automatic decision-making on maneuvering while taking into account the parameters of the vessel and COLREGs-72 provisions. ANS includes Sensor Fusion Module (SFM), Automatic Collision Avoidance Module (ACAM) and ANS Client (representing extended functionality of ECDIS).


The Sensor Fusion Module (SFM) integrates, synchronises and validates navigational data from different sources such as the radar, AIS, positioning, compass, weather station, etc, and the optical system OSA. This is similar to an officer onboard who has to gather data from all of these navigational devices, his eyes and integrate it into a single picture in his mind.


The Automatic Collision Avoidance Module (ACAM) keeps to the route and calculates the maneuvers of the vessel to avoid collisions with other vessels and navigational hazards in accordance with rules determined by COLREGs-72. These detailed rules are provided as per clear official recommendations from the Russian Federal Agency for Marine Transport for automatic collision avoidance systems. Strictly determined algorithms of this nature make MASS 100% predictable, even when placed in comparison with a traditionally crewed ship.


The ANS Client integrates all the data from mandatory and additional electronic charts (such as ICE or SAT images) and any other available information, and presents it via human interfaces that are similar to ECDIS.

 

 

 


 

 


The Optical Surveillance and Analysis System (OSA) is an optical system that detects and recognises surrounding objects. It transmits this data in a machine-readable form to the ANS while also sending the processed video image to human interfaces (such as the Remote Control Station and Bridge Advisor).


The OSA resolves the challenging task of fulfilling conventional requirements of providing visual observation in a completely autonomous mode while sitting in parallel to human-operated remote mode. Although we are only beginning the process of training the OSA neural network to reliably recognise any objects in different conditions at this current time, we believe that this automated approach that does not rely on human-operated remote controls will pay off in the future. This therefore goes a step further than simply moving human operation and oversight from onboard to shore.


At the same time, the OSA allows us to improve the quality of situational awareness for humans, both on board and in the RCS. Augmented reality (an image with additional indicative information) and even completely virtual models (in case of poor visibility or problems with the communication channel between the remote control and the vessel) may well become common everyday tools of navigators in the near future.


Internal CCTV provides various tasks like indoor video recording, automatic control over the condition of rooms (movement, change of geometric parameters, etc), equipment (change of indication, switch states, etc), cargo (displacement, crumbling, tilt and other parameters), and the transmission of this video information to the Bridge Advisor and Remote Control Station (RCS).

 

 

 


 

 


The Coordinated Motion Control system (CMS) transmits ANS commands to the ship actuators. It thus performs the same functions as the helmsman who converts the officer's orders to actions regarding steering and engine control. By CMS we consider ship heading or a trajectory control system which is already understood and used on a small but growing segment of highly automated vessels.


Currently CMS allows support through human control or follows a given trajectory with high accuracy while taking into account existing weather conditions and the ship model. By connecting CMS to ANS we allow for the control of propulsion and steering systems both automatically and remotely.

 

 

 


 

 

Engine control and technical monitoring systems (ETC) are well-known and widely used by shipping companies. These days nearly any hardware is delivered by manufacturers onboard the vessel along with their monitoring, control and even remote maintenance systems. Therefore we have simply moved the interfaces of these existing systems to outside of the vessel.


With R meaning remote-controlled, the R-ETC gathers and transmits technical parameters and alerts to the Remote Control Station. Due to this, the RSS can be considered an analogue of the central control station onboard the ship. Together with the smart Internal CCTV, it performs watch functions for the inspection and registration of events and checks parameters on board without interfering with the ship's rooms and equipment.


Currently vessels that come equipped with ETC while having proper class automation don’t require the permanent presence of a crewmember in the engine room. With a-Nav we offer the next step in this evolution, which is the removal of the need for the permanent presence of a crewmember from the bridge.

 

 

 


 

 

The Remote Control Station (RCS) is a workstation for a remote control operator and is designed to solve the entire range of remote monitoring and control tasks. It is located outside the controlled vessel and is the equivalent of a highly ergonomic ship's bridge and a central control station.


• The RCS includes interfaces for the operator's interaction with ANS, OSA, R-ETC, a joystick system for vessel motion control, and a set of terminals to the conventional radio equipment and loudspeakers onboard a controlled MASS (maritime autonomous surface ships).


• In the RCS main area there are multifunctional touch screens for interacting with all of the above systems, as well as a joystick system, terminals for interacting with the mandatory ship's communications and messaging equipment, and a video camera for video communication with the crew on board.


• Above the main area there are five screens that display image information received from the OSA about the current environment. They are present by default and display a viewing angle of 180° in front of the vessel, while including the possibility of an arbitrary rotation of this field of view by the operator using the OSA interface for viewing along a 360° arc in the horizontal plane. This arrangement offers genuine angular dimensions of any object in the image displayed for remote control operator.


• The joystick system transmits the vessel's motion parameters provided by the operator when in remote control mode to the ANS. It includes a control panel and an analog 3-axis joystick that has settings for longitudinal force, lateral force and turning moment. Using the joystick allows the human agent to operate all the necessary actuators at once with a single control.


• In order to ensure interaction with mandatory radio stations, ship MF-HF radiotelex, Inmarsat station and Navtex receiver, the RCS is equipped either by separate terminals connected to the corresponding devices onboard or by a single multichannel radio equipment control panel with a single switching module onboard.

 

 

 


 

 

The a-Nav systems require some additional hardware onboard which include a computer integrated system, a set of video cameras (including those with thermal sensors) and communication systems based on conventional hardware.


Since the technical solutions are designed for use on any ships, including retrofitted vessels without dedicated rooms for server equipment placement, the computer complex design has several options. These include placement in enclosed spaces, in a climatic container on the deck and directly on the deck of the ship.


The hardware used complies with the existing classification societies requirements for electrical equipment and does not affect the environment, other equipment or the crewmember onboard the vessel.


Computer system redundancy is provided by the separation of computer facilities into two separate cabinets on board, with RCS having backup facilities in one cabinet. Each of them has the ability to run a backup copy of the appropriate system in the event of the failure of the primary system. Uninterruptible power supplies in each of the cabinets has a capacity sufficient to operate until the launch of the vessel backup generator. Redundancy of the OSA optical elements is provided by overlapping the viewing sectors of the cameras. Digital correction and stabilization compensate for possible camera displacement due to mechanical stress.


The new hardware is physically interfaced with a number of traditional systems on board. These include systems like the Unified Timing System, weather station, AIS equipment, global navigation satellite systems and inertial navigation systems, radar stations, magnetic and gyroscopic compasses, speed meter, lag, ship heading or trajectory control system (Auto Pilot, Speed Pilot, Track Pilot, etc), remote engine control system and others. For interfacing with the existing conventional systems onboard, the conventional digital signal multipliers and analog-to-digital converters are used, as well as standard data transfer protocols pre-defined by manufacturers (IEC 61162, UDP with NMEA messages, analog signals 4-20 mA, ±10 V, etc). These ensure that there are no unintended effects on the interfaced systems.

 

 

 


 

 

All a-Nav elements are combined into one local network, including a VPN tunnel between onboard systems and the Remote Control Station (RCS). This local network is protected from unauthorised access using data encryption, a firewall to protect the perimeter, and controls and restricts sockets.


Any data exchange between the onboard LAN segment and the remote systems is carried out by wireless communication channels. Depending on the MASS (maritime autonomous surface ships) operation conditions, communication facilities may include:
- satellite communications (in any waters): VSAT, Inmarsat, Iridium, etc .;
- mobile communications (within the coverage area of mobile networks): GPRS, CDMA, 3G, 4G LTE;
- direct radio link (in the line of sight, for example, during Convoy Navigation).
Communication channels are reserved to provide permanent availability.


Communication channels between onboard systems and the RCS is protected from unauthorised access which may compromise data or be granted unauthorised access by the use of data encryption tools and a virtual private network (VPN) on top of the internet. This provides a secure connection between the node on the ship and the RCS node (following ISO/IEC 27005:2018 and the IACS Rec. No. 166 Recommendation on Cyber Resilience). Cyber security of the coastal remote control is provided according to the standards of the shipping company’s information security (BS 7799-1: 2005, ISO / IEC 17799: 2005, ISO / IEC 27001 and ISO / IEC 27002 are recommended).


The security of the connection to the information network (including from the developer's side to identify and eliminate possible defects) is provided in the following ways:
- VPN tunnel using L2TP + IPsec with AES-256 encryption
- Restricting access by external IP from the list of allowed connections;
- Restriction of connection from the Internet, direct connection from the Internet is not possible, incoming ports are closed;
- Connecting the developer and third applications to the RCS only, and not directly to the systems on board (thereby also reducing the load on the communication channel to the ship);
- Using a single point of connection, which is a router: the connection is made through a tunnel built using OpenVpn technology using certificates (for each counterparty, a unique password-protected certificate is used) and a login / password pair for each employee, encryption is performed using the AES algorithm.
- Using its own unique addressing on each ship / RCS, not overlapping with each other (separation of networks).


Access to software is restricted through a secure LAN. The reliability of the software is ensured by compliance to IS regulations, including checking the relevance of the installed software versions and releases through Configuration Manager, with the availability of backup copies for its restoration. Any software changes to control will be performed in accordance with ISO / IEC 17799: 2005. LAN protection is provided in the following ways:
- Inside the local network, Internet access is disabled on all devices, blocked at the router level;
- Windows and Linux operating systems have user accounts created and assigned a password;
- Firewalls are enabled in the Windows and Linux operating systems such that, all traffic is blocked for entry and / exit except for service and installed software. The Builtbuilt-in antivirus is activated;
- Any in-network devices will involve a web interface with the manufacturer's standard passwords changed;
- Any agents of the monitoring system will need to connect with an account that is granted a minimum of necessary rights to the server;
- Unused USB ports on servers are disabled in bios;
- Unused ethernet ports are disabled;
- Unique passwords for BIOS are created;
- The rules for temporary blocking of access when entering an incorrect password are activated on the network attached storage (NAS) and a whitelist of IP addresses for devices with access is configured;
- A whitelist of IP addresses is configured for the cameras onboard with an account created that is granted the minimum required set of rights to connect to the network storage. Any unused network monitoring services are disabled and access via SSH is disabled.


As a part of a-Nav systems we have developed Configuration Manager for system configuration, monitoring, maintenance and troubleshooting. Together with ANS and OSA self-diagnostic tools, it provides double control in cases such as any failure of communication systems or RCS during use by remote control. In such a case, the Autonomous Navigation System (ANS) immediately identifies the situation and switches to automatic control by signaling to the Bridge Advisor (BA) onboard. Potential cybersecurity vulnerabilities are also factored into the application’s logic.

 

 

 


 

 

a-Nav navigational and technical data as well as the Optical Surveillance and Analysis System (OSA) and Internal CCTV images are provided on the bridge. These are provided as both human interface to control a-Nav systems and as advisory service for the crew. As a result, it can even be used offline for traditional man-driven vessels.


The Bridge Advisor displays information to the crew onboard in the same way that the Remote Control Station (RCS) does, and provides an additional communication link between onboard personnel and the RCS operator, including video conferencing. It is represented by two screens connected to the a-Nav local network.

 

 

 


 

 

 

Under a-Nav project, we have begun testing Convoy Navigation as an option. This occurs in cases where the Remote Control Station (RCS) is installed onboard the head vessel of a convoy of ships rather than onshore, and is used to control the movement of the other vessels in the convoy.


This offers a unique capability that could potentially expand for use across a variety of maritime transport services. For example, during transport in icy waters, ice convoys with an icebreaker acting as a lead vessel (with a crew) could be followed by MASS (maritime autonomous surface ships) under control by the icebreaker. This could also work in the case of a transport convoy made up of several ships, only one of which has a crew.


This is how the Rosmorport dredging convoy is being organised. It is a simulated situation in which the lead ship (in this case the dredger) has the RCS onboard as a crewed vessel, followed by barges which do not have crews. The barges move along a given route in automatic mode, and at the operator's command they may approach the dredger and unload at the final destination of the route. The crew only boards these barges for technical maintenance and emergencies.

 

 


 

 

 

Legislation is the key to the implementation of MASS (maritime autonomous surface ships) on a large scale. This is why it has been the focus of the a-Nav Project from the very beginning. Based on the Complete Functional Equivalence (CFE) principle, we have developed a framework of legislation which is currently in the process of being implemented by the Russian government as a national Maritime and State Flag Administration.


To be compliant with current international regulation, we focus primarily on autonomous ships with people onboard, regardless of whether they control the ship. Such ships are termed semi-autonomous. At the same time we have begun laying the legal framework for a future in which there can be completely unmanned autonomous ships.


Current Russian law already places significant responsibility for ship operation and navigation on the shipowner and many legal acts already treat the ship as an independent subject of legal regulations. We have simply extended this approach further. For example, for functions which are traditionally related to the master of the ship, a marine specialist may act as a master in the crew of a semi-autonomous ship. They may not fully comply with the qualification requirements for the master but would have the final responsibility of a shipowner assigned to such a person.


While shipowner officers may be located outside the autonomous ship, they should have all the necessary technical and organisational tools to operate the ship. All administrative functions, both in managing the crew and in interacting with external persons like port authorities, cargo owners, and so on are the responsibility of the shipowner. This is an example of high-level federal law changes required.


The next level is the regulation of MASS operation under the State Flag for the interim period; that is, the national trial operation. This will take place in Russia in the period from January 2021 until December 2025. Proper regulation has been implemented by the Decree of Government based on IMO Interim Guidelines for MASS trials (MSC.1/Circ.1604, 14 June 2019). This Decree allows every shipping company to carry out MASS operation as an experiment in accordance with the drafted Decree requirements. This document further prescribes full compliance with COLREGs-72 and development of official recommendations regarding the application of COLREGs-72 for MASS automatic operation.


A framework has been finalised based on detailed recommendations created by the Russian Federal Agency for Marine Transport with regard to the provision of algorithms and limitations for automatic collision avoidance systems, a set of by-laws from the Ministry of Transport and guidelines on the classification of MASS by the Russian Maritime Register of Shipping. These are detailed and offer clear guidelines for shipping and technological companies with regard to MASS equipment and operation.


The detailed information about these changes were submitted to IMO MSC on 11 February 2020 (MSC 102/5/14) followed by the notification about a-Navigation trial project (MSC 102/5/29) and is publicly available.