Ove Ronny Haraldsen
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Autonomous cars, buses and boats. Images of these driverless vehicles are popping up ever more frequently in our daily news feeds. And now we’re not just looking at illustrations. We’re looking at photographs and videos of driverless cars actually being tested in traffic. People getting on and off autonomous buses. Out on the water, smart vessels bristling with antennae. And drones hovering in the air above us.
In Kongsberg, the Norwegian Minister of Transport and Communications test drove an autonomous bus which should be out on our roads in a few years’ time. “This could bring us freedom and increased mobility. I firmly believe that our future lies in connecting technology, vehicles and environmentally-friendly solutions like these”, says Kjetil Solvik Olsen.
Technologists all over the world, both professionals and amateurs, are now working to crack the code that will make autonomy available to everyone. The authorities are looking at regulations and making the amendments needed to allow autonomous technology. However, another problem is our innate reluctance to accept a technology for which humans will have to “give up” some of their control.
“It will take time to conquer this reluctance. Autonomous systems will have to act predictably and safely under all conditions imaginable and in every situation. People will have to see that autonomy is safe, that the systems are good and that they will bring value to individuals and society”, says Aksel Transeth, Research Manager at SINTEF ICT.
On 30 September, the Trondheim Fjord was designated as a test area for autonomous ships. A few days later, the Norwegian Forum for Autonomous Ships (NFAS) was formed. The Norwegian authorities were present at both events, demonstrating their support for the industry and research. That was extremely important, says Gard Ueland, President of Kongsberg Seatex.
“Autonomy is not just about technology. You also need a positive attitude from the authorities. The fact that both the Norwegian Coastal Administration and the Norwegian Maritime Authority supported the designation of the Trondheim Fjord as a test area for autonomous technology reflects the role the Norwegian authorities want to take and their ambitions for the maritime industry. Other countries will now look at what Norway is doing in terms of autonomous vessel development”, says Ueland.
“Building and testing autonomous vessels and transport systems in national waters now will make it easier to bring about changes in international regulations later. But the most important factor for the authorities is safety”, says Olav Akselsen, Director General of Shipping and Navigation. “If you can steer a ship from an onshore position, this means that hackers could also take control of the ship. We have to make data security a priority”, Olav Akselsen told Teknisk Ukeblad at the inauguration of the Norwegian Forum for Autonomous Ships.
Autonomy has been specified as a strategically prioritised technology by KONGSBERG’s corporate management. The head of Corporate Business Development, Harald Aarø, explains why:
“KONGSBERG has special advantages within autonomy. Not just because we are now a recognised supplier of autonomous devices, such as AUVs and missiles. But also because much of our technical expertise and technology is the key to the autonomy of the future. Safety, robustness, user-friendliness and system integration are good keywords here”, explains Aarø.
Back in Trondheim, the city’s industrial and research communities are ready to make the most of the opportunity that has presented itself on their doorstep. Kongsberg Seatex, Kongsberg Maritime, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), the Norwegian Marine Technology Research Institute (MARINTEK) and Maritime Robotics are behind the initiative. Also involved in the collaborative effort are the Trondheim Port Authority and, as previously mentioned, the Norwegian Coastal Administration and the Norwegian Maritime Authority.
Trondheim is often described as the technological capital of Norway. It achieved this status through a unique partnership between the university, research community and industrial community. “We believe in continuing to build on the strong partnership between these three communities through future research centres. We have many years of experience of this in other fields, and now it is important for us to establish a research arena in autonomous vessels”, says Ingrid Schjølberg, Professor and Director of NTNU Oceans.
“Establishing this research arena will provide an enormous boost for the development of new technology for autonomous vessels. The fact that we now have a test area will generate a lot of energy within the research, university and industrial communities”, concludes Gard Ueland of Kongsberg Seatex.