By: Scott Way
Volvo Penta has announced the industry's first fully integrated Assisted Docking system, bringing them one step closer to fully autonomous self docking. The system operates in conjunction with IPS pod drives and gives the user a self-docking platform that compensates for current, wind, tide, and related dynamic factors. The product will officially be unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) slated for Jan 11-14th.
The Assisted Docking platform utilizes software that was developed as part of Volvo's GPS-based Dynamic Position System, which creates a "human-machine interface" that connects the driver's actions to a host of sensory data related to engine propulsion and navigation. Combined, the user can maneuver within a docking scenario while the system compensates for dynamic changes in wind, tide, wave form, and spacing.
In the company statement, Volvo Penta says the system "gives the captain better control when docking a boat by automating his or her intentions" by compensating for dynamic variables. In essence, Assisted Docking detects the influence of outside factors and compensates for them, allowing the driver to maintain an intended course. The system does not dock the boat autonomously, but continually fine-tunes steering input from the driver and adjusts engine RPM to mitigate the influence of complicating factors like current, wind, or waves.
According to Anders Thorin, Product Manager Electronics at Volvo Penta, “When we launched our joystick technology in 2006, the maneuvering and control functionality it brought to leisure boating shook up the marine industry - delivering game-changing innovation is in our DNA. From our Electronic Vessel Control (EVC) system, which connects and manages the internal communications between the engine and driveline, joystick and display screen so the driver can control everything from the joystick – to our Dynamic Positioning System (DPS), which automatically maintains a boat’s heading and position, even in rough conditions – to today with the release of the Assisted Docking system, we take the next step in easy boating and continue our long-held ambition to make docking a boat easier for a more enjoyable boating experience.”
The most likely questions for potential users, particularly those in large yachts or commercial vessels, is how exactly the system integrates with a captain's decision making during docking.
Ida Sparrefors, Volvo Penta director of autonomous solutions and new business models, claims “Assisted Docking is a hybrid between automated docking and manual docking. Even though, in some ways, it would have been easier to implement full automation, the beauty of this system is that it gives the captain enhanced control. With our team of experts — from software developers to test drivers — we have made it behave intuitively in all situations so that anyone can feel like a seasoned captain.”
In terms of components, the Assisted Docking system employs a joystick that controls the steering input while the GPS-based Dynamic Positioning System antenna gauges the exact position and heading. The captain maneuvers the vessel with the joystick – informing the system which direction it should head in and at what speed. By moving the joystick forward, the system lays out a straightforward path the boat will follow while keeping the indicated speed. The boat docking system then takes into account external forces (i.e. wind, current) and the EVC system compensates to ensure the boat follows the predesigned route. It does so by calculating drive angles and thrust, then acts on the drift and moves the boat back to its intended course.
The Assisted Docking platform will be available for installation in spring 2021 and is an upgradeable option for Volvo Penta IPS-equipped boats up to 120 feet. It can also be a retrofit for IPS boats but will require a software upgrade and new antenna.
The IPS system has been a stalwart for Volvo Penta, with the company announcing in October they had sold over 30,000 units to date.
You can get a great inside look at Volvo Penta's development of autonomous docking technology below: