Autonomous operations in a port environment open business opportunities and raise safety and reliability considerations. AUTOPORT project developed solutions for ensuring safe, secure and reliable operation, systemic approaches and collaborative business models.  

Autonomous shipping and autonomous vessels have been in the headlines for some years. Recently, Yara Birkeland announced that “World´s first crewless, zero emissions cargo ship will set sail in Norway”. Initially, loading and unloading the ship will require humans, but will also eventually operate using autonomous technology. Major container ports operating globally are already fully or highly automated but there is a huge number of small and medium sized ports – like those utilized by Yara – that are looking for solutions that would increase the level of automation in a sustainable way.  

AUTOPORT (Operational excellence and novel business concepts for autonomous logistic systems in ports) – project addressed the challenges of autonomy and the digital revolution in terminal operations by developing ecosystem level approaches for logistic systems. The AUTOPORT consortium started the work in 2019 and by now the final project outcomes are published. The project partners included companies Kalmar, Atostek, Exertus, Huld, Intopalo Digital and Solita and research organisations Tampere University and VTT. The work focussed in three domains namely, stepwise cost-effective automation, novel business opportunities and system design and validation methods. 

AUTOPORT laid a solid foundation to the work on safe and efficient autonomy and created understanding of the logistic domain and related challenges for the road mapping process. The AUTOPORT roadmap highlights that we are dealing with a systemic change: the transformation towards autonomous operations require collaboration based on trust, open-minded technology development and novel business models. In this process, novel software development models and safety considerations are in the core. The road-mapping process contributes to the ecosystem building: the structured workshops and discussion help to build mutual trust between the stakeholders and to commit to the common goals. 

Autonomous operations in a port environment raise safety and reliability considerations and novel risks emerge. Safe and reliable work machines are needed but this is not enough when aiming towards flexible mixed-traffic operation concepts. Ensuring safe, secure and reliable operation in a complex environment call for system-level thinking. Innovative safety systems are needed. One contribution of the AUTOPORT project on system safety engineering is a hyper book “Safety engineering guidelines for autonomous machinery in ports and terminals”. The hyper book is meant for searching autonomous mobile machine requirements, risks, protective measures, safety strategies, functional safety principles and terminology.

To support the design of new autonomous features for logistic systems the hybrid risk assessment ontology was created to cover dependability, safety and security (i.e. RAMSS) issues. The model-based safety engineering tool developed earlier in VTT for the design of safety critical machine control system was updated with the ontology and related data models. The hybrid risk assessment methodology utilising the tool and Fault Tree Analysis (FTA) and Hazard and Operability study (HAZOP) methods, and a new Security Threat Analysis (STA) method developed by VTT were tested in a company case. The applicability and maturity of the new hybrid ontology was good, but further tests, especially concerning the STA method is needed.

Autonomous systems are complex, software-intensive and highly interconnected. In the AUTOPORT-project we have applied the Systems Theoretic Process Analysis (STPA) method to identify autonomy related hazards in the heavy mobile machinery sector. In STPA, a hierarchical system model is developed to visualize the control structures and interactions between system elements including both technical systems and human operators. The method provides a systematic process for identifying potentially unsafe control actions that may occur in the system and to ensure that sufficient safety constraints and risk mitigation measures are in place. The promising results were presented in the highly valued MIT STAMP workshop and the feedback encouraged to continue the methodology development.

In a longer term, the investments in automation and digitalization will bring benefits including safety, reduced unplanned downtime, increased production and improved workforce effectiveness. However, the high initial investment cost is a threshold beyond which new ways of sharing costs and benefits are required. Inter-organizational software development could be one contributor towards automated work machines. An approach developed in the AUTOPORT-project offered a tool to evaluate impacts of novel business models including different models for sharing investment and operational costs between the asset operator and supplier on the profitability of the operations. Both approaches could path the way towards application of the autonomous systems also in the small and medium-sized ports.

Sea ports are also looking inland. Sea port – connectivity and inland transport chain need innovative approaches from various transport stakeholders, connecting road, inland waterways, and rail networks, which can handle similar cargo volume as the port itself. Major sea ports are preparing themselves for autonomous vehicles and this development extends towards the hinterland hubs. The transportation routes between sea ports and hinterland hubs offer a lucrative application for automated and even autonomous machines.

AUTOPORT results are summarized and available through the project web page (see: Dissemination). We are on a good track but there is still long way to go. Our work towards safe and reliable autonomy solutions and flexible cost-effective services will continue in the SIX Mobile Work Machines cluster (Mobile Work Machines | SIX).

Risto Tiusanen & Helena Kortelainen, VTT

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