Design Engineering

ABB launches pilot program for autonomous passenger ferry

Devin Jones   

General Automation Automotive ABB Automation

The vessel was operated remotely from a control centre using ABBs Ability Marine Pilot Control system.

Suomenlinna II

Photo courtesy of ABB.

Earlier this week, the industrial automation division of Swiss automation company ABB, teamed up with Helsinki City Transport to begin a pilot program testing out an autonomous passenger ferry boat.

The Suomenlinna II, was outfitted with ABB’s dynamic positioning system Ability Marine Pilot Control, which allowed operators to steer the boat from a control centre in Helsinki. This trial is a step toward increasing the maritime industry acceptance of autonomous operation systems.

“Autonomous does not mean unmanned. As vessels become more electric, digital and connected than ever before, ABB is able to equip seafarers with existing solutions that augment their skillsets. In this way, we are enhancing the overall safety of marine operations,” said Juha Koskela, Managing Director at ABB’s Marine  & Ports unit.

For the remote piloting trial, the ferry departed from Helsinki’s market square, Kauppatori, and Captain Heinonen wirelessly operated the ferry using Pilot Control through a pre-selected area of Helsinki harbor.

The trial took place during the ferry’s off hours, away from shore with no passengers aboard, in an area free of other vessels. While it is now equipped with the new dynamic positioning system, the vessel will continue to operate via a set of conventional onboard controls, with the remote mode deployed during the trial only. Research and development will continue with the ferry and her crew.


Originally built in 2004, Suomenlinna II, is equipped with ABB’s icebreaking Azipod electric propulsion system, where the electric drive motor is in a submerged pod outside the ferries hull.

“The progress we have made with the remote trial has been remarkable. I believe we are on the right track to exploring further possibilities of this technology as we move forward,” said Captain Heinonen.

Global demand for maritime transport has grown by 30 percent over the past decade, according to the International Chamber of Shipping data, while more than 10 billion tons of cargo are now transported by sea every year. 



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