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Test vehicle with digital test field, © Kiel University/Muthesius Academy of Art and Design

Since 2018, the CAPTN (Clean Autonomous Transport Network) initiative has had an objective of developing an environmentally friendly, autonomous chain of public transport options in Kiel. At the centre of this project are autonomous low-emissions passenger ferries to connect the east and west banks of Kieler Förde, an inlet of the Baltic Sea. The initial plan over the next two years is to create a test environment in Kieler Förde for a research platform that will operate autonomously when it is launched in twelve months’ time. Germany’s Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure is supporting the development of autonomous ferry transport in Kiel with funding of roughly EUR 6.1 million. The R & D Centre at Kiel University of Applied Sciences (FuE-GmbH) is responsible for implementing and coordinating the project. Its partners include Kiel University (CAU), Kiel University of Applied Sciences (FH) and the companies ADDIX GmbH, Raytheon Anschütz GmbH and Wissenschaftszentrum Kiel GmbH. “We have many years of experience in building and operating research and development infrastructures, and we are looking forward to bringing it to the project,” stated Björn Lehmann-Matthaei, FuE director. “Autonomous ship travel is a field with great potential for technological innovation and new operational and safety concepts must be developed for it.”

The experimental research platform will be made of aluminium and fitted with a zero-emission electric engine. It is planned to be 18 metres long and eight metres wide with a draught of one metre, while offering a capacity of 8.5 tonnes. Obstacle navigation will be an example manoeuvre that is studied first, in a limited area close to the banks. Initially the platform will not operate autonomously, but rather make suggestions to a remote shipmaster for the steering actions required. To operate autonomously later on, the system will have to learn using artificial intelligence and analyse and interpret the data obtained. Steering and control are exceptional challenges for ships navigating Kieler Förde, which has heavy traffic.

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