MF Estelle during one of her first trips, Source: Zeabuz

First-in-the-world autonomous ferry charts the waters of Stockholm

First-in-the-world autonomous ferry charts the waters of Stockholm

The boat is its own captain, but still, there’s a supervisor on board

The start of this week also saw the start of what’s been described as the first self-driving ferry in the world. The boat, made by the Norwegian company Torghatten, is plying the waters between the islands of the Swedish capital Stockholm without any human help.

The autonomous tech at the heart of the Zeabuz-operated ferry, called MF Estelle, has been in development for a number of years at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, which successfully launched a ferry trial as part of its Autoferry project last year.

AI, Captain!

For the tech buffs - the autonomous catamaran ferry measures 12 x 5 metres, with enough space to carry 25 passengers (plus half a dozen bicycles) between Riddarfjärden and Södermalm in Stockholm. A 188-kWh battery bank will be charged up by a 7.7-kW solar-panel array up top and propulsion comes courtesy of an electric motor.

The essence of the boat, however, is its operating system which navigates the vessel thanks to radar, LiDAR (to keep track of and avoid objects in the water), as well as infrared and vision cameras to assist the AI-based "digital captain" in understanding what's going on around the ferry, ultrasonic sensors to facilitate automatic docking manoeuvres, and GPS for positioning.

For those who might be feeling queasy at the idea of being left on a ferry that is using a smart system to move across the sea, there is the assurance of human touch. There is a human supervisor on board, but only in case something goes unexceptionally wrong.

Still, the idea is that things will be smooth, and the company plans to use this route as a springboard to developing new autonomous ferry routes in Sweden.



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