Global car manufacturers and many startups are investing heavily in self-driving cars. It is a complex field of high technology that involves software algorithms that must make life-saving decisions with monitoring devices that feed data from the surroundings to the computer that is driving a car. Now, self-driving technology has been taken into use in a ferry in Finland.
The ferry, operated by Finferries, connects two islands in the archipelago of Turku (Åbo). The sea trip from Parainen to Nauvo takes about 15 minutes. Loaded with cars and trucks, the ferry crosses the sea all year. The route is protected by islands, preventing massive waves, but there are cargo ships, boats, fishermen, and cruise ships sailing in the same waters.
The demonstration trip, conducted in early December 2018, was fully autonomous with the captain monitoring everything at the deck. The return trip was controlled from a remote control room located on the mainland by an experienced captain. During the journey, the ferry is aware of and can avoid other vessels. It can also dock autonomously.
The self-driving technology for autonomous ferries comes from Rolls-Royce. The British company has developed sensors which allow a vessel to build a detailed picture of its surroundings in real time with accuracy beyond that of the human eye. The situational awareness information is also relayed to Finferries’ remote operating centre on land. A captain monitors the autonomous operations, and can take control of the vessel if necessary.
Travel experience on a ferry in the archipelago
As it happens, on one of my road trips in the Nordic countries, I have made exactly the same sea trip on one of those yellow ferries. There are many of them, constantly sailing back and forth between the islands. Especially in summer, the archipelago is a popular vacation destination.
Here is the Falco ferry when it was still steered by an onboard captain:
Finnish public broadcaster Yle was on board on the first autonomous ferry trip. The article is FInnish, but you can view photos and a video inside the ferry.