We wrote perviously about the partnership between Rolls Royce and Finferries to launch the first autonomous passenger ferry. It’s now a reality. On December 3rd, the maiden voyage was completed, marking a true milestone in autonomous boating.

The model for autonomous commercial boating appears to be a kind of hybird autonomous-remote control combination. The boat itself can be unmanned, but senors deliver a huge amount of data to a central control facility where people can take over control if they need to.

During the maiden voyage, they demonstrated how the ferry reacts to boat traffic around it and how it interacts with the central control facility. While this same technology isn’t going trickle down to an average boat soon, you know that this kind of innovation will end up affecting a very wide range of marine craft.

The car ferry Falco used a combination of Rolls-Royce Ship Intelligence technologies to successfully navigate autonomously during its voyage between Parainen and Nauvo. The return journey was conducted under remote control.

The vessel detected objects utilising sensor fusion and artificial intelligence and conducted collision avoidance. It also demonstrated automatic berthing with a recently developed autonomous navigation system. All this was achieved without any human intervention from the crew.

The Falco is equipped with a range of advanced sensors which allows it to build a detailed picture of its surroundings, in real time and with a level of accuracy beyond that of the human eye. The situational awareness picture is created by fusing sensor data and it is relayed to Finferries’ remote operating centre on land, some 50 kilometres away in Turku city centre where a captain monitors the autonomous operations and can take control of the vessel if necessary.

During the autonomous operation tests in Turku archipelago, Rolls-Royce has so far clocked close to 400 hours of sea trials. The Rolls-Royce Autodocking system is among the technologies that have been successfully tested. This feature enables the vessel to automatically alter course and speed when approaching the quay and carry out automatic docking without human intervention. During the sea trials, the collision avoidance solution has also been tested in various conditions for several hours of operation.

We’re not sure why commercial marine innovation seems to come out of Finland quite often, but we like it. There seems to be something about this country that wants to innovate, which perhaps led Rolls Royce there.