Volvo aiming to have a new self-docking system ready by 2020

The self-docking system is centred around a joystick-controlled Volvo Penta Inboard Performance System (IPS)
The self-docking system is centred around a joystick-controlled Volvo Penta Inboard Performance System (IPS)

In a live demonstration of the self-docking system, which can be seen in the video below, a 20.7-metre (68-foot) motor yacht fitted with the technology was able to automatically and safely dock in a compact space between other vessels.

The self-docking system is centred around a joystick-controlled Volvo Penta Inboard Performance System (IPS), which is a comprehensive integrated propulsion system. The automated docking procedures are viable thanks to the on-board electronic vessel control system (EVC), which calculates steering power, speeds and the boat’s exact location. It also interacts with four sensors positioned in the berth for maximum accuracy.

As well as being able to safely secure a boat into a berthing space, the automated system can also help it depart with ease.

The pioneering new device is aligned perfectly with Volvo Penta’s ‘Easy Boating’ philosophy, with the company seeking to eliminate the frustrations that can arise when attempting to manoeuvre into narrow berths, or while winds or sea conditions are unfavourable.

Björn Ingemanson, president of Volvo Penta, commented, “Docking is one of the most challenging boat handling manoeuvres – getting it wrong can be embarrassing, expensive and precarious. Our IPS system has already taken great strides in making docking easier, and this new self-docking feature takes that process one important stage further.

“Its sensors and on-board computers react in milliseconds to changing wind and sea conditions, constantly making micro adjustments in power and steering angle of the IPS drive to keep the boat on its intended course into a safe berth,” Ingemanson added. “If necessary, the docking process can be paused, and the system will hold the boat stationary in the water. Even in changing sea conditions it can make the sea appear to stand still.”

The system works in three phases: It will first acknowledge entering a ‘catch zone’, pinging a signal that it is ready to dock to the captain. Once the captain activates the self-docking system, the boat – aided fully by GPS – automatically moves into a ‘ready’ position. Then, when the captain initiates the final phase, the system uses a combination of processes and sensors (on board and in the port itself) to safely dock the boat.

Johan Inden, chief technology officer at Volvo Penta, explained, “We have long had the ambition to make docking as easy as possible. The first step towards this was in 2006, with the launch of our joystick docking technology. This was followed by the introduction of the Dynamic Positioning System, which automatically maintains a boat’s heading and position, even during strong currents or windy conditions – ideal when preparing for docking.

“Now, we are taking the next important step by enabling the boat to dock itself. With our easy docking concept, we aim to attract more people to enjoy the boating experience.”

The self-docking system will be compatible with advanced IPS-equipped boats, but a retrofit version is also being planned for the wider market. Initially, it will be available to owners and individuals who can fit private docks with the system, but ultimately Volva Penta are hoping that this technology will be of interest to marinas, harbours and ports of all sizes.

Although the self-docking system is largely automated, Volvo Penta has deliberately designed it to require human input and therefore not be totally autonomous. Captains will need to remain at the helm during the process – although anti-collision alerts are in place and the system can provide avoidance manoeuvres if necessary.

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