Volvo Penta’s Self-Docking Yacht Technology

26 July 2018 By Laura Dunn

In June, Volvo Penta unveiled its advanced self-docking tech plans, set to be released to the market in 2020. In a live demonstration during the Volvo Ocean Race in the Gothenburg, Sweden, stopover, a 68-foot yacht skillfully and successfully maneuvered itself into a tight space between two Volvo Ocean Race 65 racing yachts. If a captain were to make a mistake when docking, ramifications would be painfully expensive. That’s a problem Volvo wants to solve. “Docking is the most stressful part of boating,” says Anders Thorin, marine electronics product manager at Volvo Penta. “We have always been aiming to make this process easier as this is part of our ‘Easy Boating’ philosophy,” which is to make boating simple, enjoyable, and accessible to more people.

“The technology is designed so that the captain can easily take control manually if needed,” says Thorin. “When we release it to the market, we will also ensure collision alert and avoidance features are included.”

In order to further prevent human error, Thorin says there will be a built-in pause function, “which will help the captain and crew find time to put out fenders, prepare ropes, etc. It will also make it easier to dock in tough conditions, such as tight angles, strong wind, or current.”

As for how it works, Volvo is installing its joystick controlled IPS (inboard performance system), an integrated propulsion system that goes from the helm station via the engine, all the way to the propellers. This will have sensors and advanced navigation processing power.

There will be three phases in the self-docking process: first as the boat nears its berth — which is when the system will recognize that it has entered a “catch zone” and send out a signal to the captain that it’s ready to dock. Once the captain has activated the self-docking function, the vessel will automatically move into a “docking ready” position with the help of GPS. Then, in the last stage, once the captain has initiated it, the system will use a combination of GPS and sensors — those fitted on board, as well as additional sensors fitted to the destination dock. It will then automatically move the boat into a safe berth.

Prototypes are currently undergoing development trials to ensure that Volvo Penta’s pioneer technology for self-docking goes seamlessly. “We started to work one year ago with the initial tests,” says Thorin. “It has taken about six months of active work to bring the concept to the current prototype phase.” According to Thorin, “The process has actually been quite smooth so far.”

The global supplier of engines and complete power solutions has been busy in other regards too. It also announced in June that there’s a 2021 deadline to introduce electric power to its land- and sea-based business segments. They will be going full charge into hybrid and all-electric drivelines, which will offer electrified solutions for its marine and industrial segments.

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