German research consortium reaches milestone in autonomous ferry transportation

The Clean Autonomous Public Transportation Network (CAPTN) has reached a milestone in autonomous shipping with the opening of the control center for monitoring and remote control of the research vessel, catamaran MV Wavelab.


Partners in the CAPTN Förde 5G project are the Kiel University, the City of Kiel, Port of Kiel as well as AVL Deutschland, HH Vision, Schlepp- und Fährgesellschaft Kiel mbH and Science Hub Kiel. The associated partner is Wehrtechnische Dienststelle WTD71, whose naval arsenal provided a protected harbor for testing autonomous driving maneuvers.

During an official test run last week, Kiel-based company Anschütz, a specialist in navigation and integrated bridge systems, successfully demonstrated the remote control of the MV Wavelab from a control center set up on the company’s premises. The commissioning of this important control center marks a milestone in the Förde 5G and Förde Areal CAPTN research projects.

From the control center, the ship MV Wavelab was monitored in real-time cruising at the maritime test site on the inner Kiel fjord.

Trained personnel could access the sensors, drives, cameras and navigation systems on board and remotely control the vessel.

The project partners used a digital twin that maps all data from existing and experimental sensors and systems on board in the monitoring center.

“A digital twin not only provides an excellent research and development environment for the various research groups working together within CAPTN, but also opens up entirely new potential for further projects that will bring us a significant step closer to the autonomous passenger ferry of the future,” Daniel Laufs, Innovation Manager of the CAPTN Fjord 5G project located at Kiel Science Center, said.

The control center on land is equipped with a large monitor on which camera systems display a 360-degree view in real time. A

As on the ship, multi-function displays provided access to the navigation radar and the Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS). A flexible display of navigation data is also provided. Another display serves as a user interface for the MS Wavelab’s control and propulsion systems. A separate dashboard displays and monitors system performance, such as available bandwidth, system component status, and energy management, according to the researchers.

In order to exchange large amounts of data in real time between the control center and the ship, a high-performance maritime data communication infrastructure has been set up along the inner fjord and on land, based on a 5G mobile network and a Wifi6 network from ADDIX GmbH, one of the project partners in the realization of the control center.

“For the safety of the people on board, uninterrupted and fast data transmission is crucial,” said ADDIX Managing Director Björn Schwarze.

“We will now use the data from the test runs to further optimize the system architecture and precisely coordinate the various fallback levels.

According to CAPTN, with the commissioning of the control center, level 2 of the autonomy scale developed by the Central Commission for Navigation on the Rhine (ZKR) has been reached. This scale has six levels from 0 to 5. Level 2 corresponds to partial automation, i.e. remote control is allowed under certain conditions; the skipper must be able to perform “dynamic navigation tasks” and intervene in case of emergency.

“We are pleased that with the commissioning of the shore control center at Anschütz we are now taking a major step towards semi-autonomous and autonomous navigation in the digital test field in Kiel,” said Daniel Sommerstedt, CAPTN project manager at Anschütz.

The CAPTN Förde 5G project is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Digital Affairs and Transport (BMDV) with  €4 million.