Ship hydrodynamics and autonomy

Shipping is essential to the world’s imports and exports, with over 90% of global trade being transported by sea. Despite its importance, shipping is lagging behind in terms of efficiency, safety, and cost-effectiveness. However, in the next 20 years, autonomous ships have the potential to change the game, bringing gains in efficiency, improved safety, lower costs, and a smaller environmental impact. 

Project Aims

The goal of this project is to create an efficient and safe autonomous shipping system. We will develop decision systems and onshore control stations to support the design and operation of unmanned cargo ships. By blending observations, numerical models, virtual reality, and machine learning, we will create algorithms for unassisted navigation and integrate them into an advanced ship simulator platform. This platform will be able to respond to environmental conditions and optimize sea freight transport capabilities. The outcome of this project will allow for the integration of automated controls in ships, including remote control capabilities, which will support Australia’s transition towards a thriving autonomous shipping industry, bringing improvements in reliability, efficiency, productivity, and safety.

Data Validation

We have undertaken extensive research in ship hydrodynamics and autonomy, using advanced technology and techniques to provide innovative solutions. Our capabilities extend to conducting fast computational fluid dynamics (CFD) simulation of wave-floating body interaction to evaluate stability in extreme seas and develop AI for seakeeping. In our pursuit of enhancing ship response modelling and bolstering accuracy, our team has created a comprehensive database that contains models from WaveWatch III for a period of over 30 years. Our validation process further encompasses observation data, ensuring the utmost precision in our simulations. We also have plans to leverage this invaluable dataset for the training of algorithms in the near future. 

Moving Towards Autonomous Shipping

The shipping industry is rapidly evolving with the advent of autonomous decision systems and artificial intelligence that have the capability to acquire and digest large amounts of data produced by electronic sensors onboard unmanned vessels. However, the implementation of environmental conditions in autonomous navigation algorithms is crucial for maintaining stability and avoiding accidents, but has not yet been realized. In addition, while VR technology is used to train sailors to manoeuvre ships in confined spaces and high traffic conditions, these platforms do not accurately account for environmental conditions and their impact on human-machine interaction. This is an area where the University of Melbourne, in collaboration with Pivot Maritime, aims to make significant contributions by proposing a paradigm shift in marine hydrodynamics. This will bring together human and machine perspectives to evaluate ship stability and avoid accidents. By combining machine learning techniques and innovative VR technology, the research aims to develop high-fidelity computational fluid dynamics models that can predict ship motion accurately and account for environmental factors, thereby minimizing the risk of instability, structural failure, loss of buoyancy, and damage to cargo.

Optimizing Sea Freight Transport Capabilities

The optimization of sea freight transport capabilities requires continuous advancements in smart ship technology. The integration of artificial intelligence and autonomous decision-making systems with onboard electronic sensors, such as cameras, sonars, and marine radars, has allowed for real-time detection of obstacles and impediments to navigation. However, the focus of the technology so far has been on object detection and collision avoidance, with environmental conditions crucial for maintaining ship stability yet to be fully implemented in autonomous navigation algorithms. Additionally, while virtual reality (VR) technology has provided a platform for training sailors in high-traffic and narrow navigation conditions, standard hardware limitations prevent training in hazardous environments where sudden loss of stability can cause significant damage. To address these challenges, this project aims to integrate advanced modelling capabilities with innovative technologies to evaluate ship stability from both human and machine perspectives, with the ultimate goal of enhancing the national and international standing of the Australian maritime industry.