MV “Wavelab” paves the way for autonomous and sustainable shipping

22. February 2023

The CAPTN initiative has reached a milestone: With the christening of the research vessel MV “Wavelab”, the innovative network takes an important step towards autonomous shipping. 

The research vessel MV “Wavelab” was christened today. Having been built within the project CAPTN Förde Areal, the catamaran is owned by the Research and Development Center Kiel University of Applied Sciences (FuE-Zentrum FH Kiel GmbH), it is intended to provide data and conditions for autonomous passenger shipping in Kiel. The ceremony took place at the Gebrüder Friedrich shipyard in Kiel-Friedrichsort; Kathrin Lau, editor-in-chief of the Hamburg trade magazine Schiff&Hafen, assumed the christening ceremonie of breaking the bottle of Champmagne. Guests included Ministerial Director Dr. Norbert Salomon (CSU), Head of the Department of Waterways and Shipping at the German Federal Ministry of Transport for Digital Affairs and Transport (BMDV), as well as Schleswig-Holstein’s Minister of Economics and Transport Claus Ruhe Madsen (independent) and Kiel’s Lord Mayor Dr. Ulf Kämpfer (SPD).

For Björn Lehmann-Matthaei, Managing Director of FuE-Zentrum FH Kiel GmbH, the launch of the 21-meter-long and eight-meter-wide research vessel marks the beginning of the decisive step towards the future of a new mobility. “As an infrastructure project, CAPTN Förde Area lays the foundation for distinctive research of autonomous shipping in the Kiel Fjord. For the city and Schleswig-Holstein with its strong maritime industry, it is of great importance to participate in new technological developments. The christening is a major milestone: Soon the ship will be able to start its actual research operations.”

Research consortium includes companies and universities in Kiel
FuE-Zentrum FH Kiel GmbH is the builder and operator of the MV “Wavelab” and heads a consortium of five project partners. Over the past two years, they have developed and implemented concepts for the floating test vehicle, a digital test field and the corresponding assistance systems as part of the CAPTN Förde Areal project. The partners include: the Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel (CAU), the Kiel-based company Anschütz GmbH, the ADDIX GmbH and the Science Center (WiZe) Kiel GmbH. The project will also develop the necessary infrastructure for practical testing of autonomous shipping. The construction of the research vessel and equipping the digital test field will create a basis for further research projects.

“The CAPTN Initiative is striving to establish an autonomous and clean mobility chain across all modes of transport. For an autonomous ferry to function, large amounts of data are required, which serve as the basis for reliable and efficient navigational behavior. We are pleased that we now have an research vessel that is able to test these technologies on an actual site,” emphasizes Prof. Dr. Eckhard Quandt, CAU Vice President for Research, Transfer, Scientific Infrastructure and Digitization.

“With CAPTN Förde Areal, Kiel’s universities and industrial partners have proven that innovative and outstanding results we be delivered when working together,” stresses the president of Kiel University of Applied Sciences, Dr. Björn Christensen. “We hope to be able to implement other mobility projects based on this research in the near future, so that we can make Kiel an even more attractive university location.”

Research into autonomous shipping is designed as a long-term project. Although some ongoing initiatives deal with the topic of autonomous passenger ferries already, the legal framework for such concepts has not yet been created. “This research platform provides an important element for the realization of a sustainable public transport system. Only if we create the necessary prerequisites today, will we succeed in achieving a future mobility turnaround,” says Dr. Wiebke Müller-Lupp, scientific director of WiZe.

High reputation and future prospects
According to Economics Minister Claus Ruhe Madsen, the CAPTN initiative with its four scientific projects, all of which aim to create a clean, autonomous and comprehensive public mobility chain, is increasingly becoming a flagship for Schleswig-Holstein: “Integrated, environmentally friendly transportation is necessary to drive forward the transportation revolution. CAPTN is leading the way in this area. We will continue to support the project and hope for results that can be implemented quickly.”

CAPTN Förde Areal will continue to be financed by the partners’ and subsidied until July 2023. In September 2020, FuE-Zentrum FH Kiel GmbH submitted an application to the German Federal Ministry of Digital Affairs and Transport (BMDV) under the funding guideline “Investments for the Development of Digital Test Fields on Federal Waterways” (DTW I); in spring 2021, the research project received the funding amount of around 6.1 million euros.

During the project period, in addition to the construction of the research vessel, the digital test field was established. It enables real-time communication between the ship and the control center on land. The data collected by the “Wavelab” is needed for the development of software systems for (partially) autonomous shipping. The information are transmitted directly via WLAN. Additionally, autonomous driving will be tested – under the supervision of a captain – on an area not accessible for public vessels. The site is based on the naval arsenal in Kiel-Dietrichsdorf.

Just as important as the physical requirements for testing autonomous navigation are the technical prerequisites. This includes the construction of an integrated bridge system on the vessel and a digital twin in the control center ashore.

After the christening ceremony, finishing touches will be carried out. The MV “Wavelab” is expected to be handed over to FuE-Zentrum FH Kiel GmbH in late spring. After a testing periode, the actual research operation will take place starting in early summer.

Technical details:
Length: 20.9 m
Width: 8,1 m
Depth: 1,0 – 1,2 m
Propulsion: emission-free electric drive with 2x50kW and rudder propellers
The MV “Wavelab” fulfills all official requirements for an approval as inland vessel zone 2 sea. She has a circumferential sensor frame for optimal positioning of sensor technology for (partially) autonomous driving as well as an air-conditioned deckhouse. Expandable server cabinets are located in the three-meter-high hulls, and a container storage area has been created on deck.