World First Test Lab for Ocean Drones

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Norway’s Trondheim Fjord becomes the world’s first testing site for unmanned vehicles from ships to underwater snake robots.

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Trondheim Fjord, Norway’s third-longest fjord, is being established as a test lab for pilotless vehicles that move below, on and above the water.  Pilotless vehicles, also known as unmanned vessels or autonomous technology, include robots, drones and unmanned ships, which are expected to replace human labor in the future.  Until now, only testing sites for unmanned cars have existed.

The Trondheim Fjord, located about 500 kilometers north of Oslo, was chosen as the test site for three reasons: Its low traffic, its geographical characteristics and its proximity to the technological capital of Norway – Trondheim.

On one hand, the fjord is large, wide and open, while, at the same time, it is demanding enough to create challenges for humans and technology alike.  On the other hand, the Trondheim Fjord is surrounded by research institutions and businesses, which specialize in autonomous systems, vessel concepts, aquaculture and robotics.  The hope is that these organizations will use the momentum and excitement around the new testing site and turn it into a vital facility for the future of shipping.

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Specifically, the goal is to develop new forms of autonomous vehicles.  While such vehicles are already used to perform tasks in dangerous or unpredictable environments or for geographical surveys and mapping, the ambition is to create larger pilotless vessels that can transport cargo and even passengers.  Because these vessels will have few or no people aboard, they will be easier and cheaper to build.  Thus, it is expected that unmanned ships will be the next step in the shipping industry, and some of the additional benefits associated with them include lower emissions, lower operating costs and better security.

As with drones, unmanned vessels are also of great interest to the military and therefore to companies producing military technology, like the Kongsberg conglomerate.  One example is the company’s underwater snake robot, which is driven by snake-type motions instead of propulsion and hence cannot be easily detected.

The Trondheim Fjord testing site is an initiative established by the Norwegian Marine Technology Research Institute (MARINTEK), the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, the Trondheim Port Authority, Kongsberg and Maritime Robotics, in cooperation with Trondheim Harbour and the Norwegian Maritime Authority.

The fjord is open not only to organizations in its proximity, but also to those who need to test unmanned vessels or are seeking knowledge about autonomous shipping – but not to all foreign defense companies, we assume.

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Watch video: Swimming Motion of Underwater Snake Robot 

Watch video: Test Site for Autonomous Vessels

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Source: Kongsberg Maritime, Norwegian University of Science and Technology

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