Drone Submarine Tug for Safe, Efficient Ship Maneuvering in Port
REVOLUTIONARY TECHNOLOGY - INTRODUCTION TO UNMANNED TUGS (TOWBOTS)
For hundreds of years, tugs have been used to assist vessels to maneuver in ports. However, tugboats have inherent problems which have not been addressed up until now. These include communication gaps with tugboat Masters and critical delays when the tug has to move from a push position to a pull position. High manning costs and labor issues have plagued the towage industry for many years. Further, high fuel consumptions and engine emissions from tugs have forced ports to enforce new regulations to control air pollution from tugs. The “Towbot” has been developed to eliminate weaknesses of today’s tugs, and disrupt the 100-year old methodology of ship towage.
The Towbot attaches itself to any vessel’s underwater hull and effectively becomes an onboard thruster under the direct control of the pilot’s handheld. The pilot can then maneuver the vessel using a combination of vessel’s engines and Towbot thrusters. Pilots will no longer have to rely on the skill and communication of a tug master. The Towbot effectively removes the high cost of manning of tugs, and reduces dependence on the human element. The initial design is a 1,200 BHP unit capable of assisting Handymax and some Panamax-sized ships. Multiple such units can be used to assist larger vessels, and scaled up designs will be offered. In addition to vessel assistance for ship maneuvering, the Towbots can be used for dynamic positioning of offshore barges, salvage, oil spill pollution assistance and underwater inspections of various port facilities and marine assets.
The market for the Towbot is huge and recession proof, as the Tow-bots will only be required to replace the existing tugs. The global fleet of tugs is over 16,000 and is the largest portion of all types of vessels worldwide, followed by around 9,000 General cargo vessels and 5,000 passenger ferries. According to LR, the tug fleet size is expected to grow by around 4% annually, i.e. around 600 tugs per year. Currently, the average age of tugs worldwide is 22 years with the U.S. flag sea-going fleet now at 35 years. As of August 28, 2014, there were 548 tugs under construction across the world according to Fairplay Newbuildings report. 34% of the total tug fleet have a bollard pull of below 2,000 BHP, and 80% is below 4,000 BHP indicating a higher number of low BHP tugs. Keeping in mind the demand for automation and high labour costs in Europe, USA, Australia and Singapore, the product will first be launched in these countries. These 4 nations have flagged 25% of the worldwide fleet, i.e. 4,000 tugs, according to the Marcons Tug market report. Assuming a very modest tug to Towbot conversion rate of 1% of the worldwide fleet only (4% of the fleet in US, Europe, Singapore & Australia), the number of Tow-bots that can be immediately sold is 160.
The Towbot technology is a combination of an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) and an external thruster arrangement, with a unique application that will change the world towage operations. AUVs are well established, and the control systems and software are easily available. External propulsion systems using various types of commercially available thrusters are also in use. An example of an external propulsion system is the Thrustmaster. Even though they are not as versatile as the Towbot, Thrustmaster has reached a turnover of USD 400 mil per year.
Design tasks completed so far include the equipment selection, hydrostatics, finite element analysis & computational fluid dynamics. We have a clear understanding of the pending design tasks, which will cover computer simulations and physical models. The first unit will be ready for sale in 2 years from commencement, which includes prototype testing and approvals.
We have already put in many months of hard work and savings to complete a substantial part of the product design work as we firmly believe that this is the future of ship maneuvering in ports. We are looking for support at this stage, a technical team of specific domain experts and financial support, in order to complete the design and approvals.
The Towbot will cross a billion dollar sales in the next 3 years if we convert only 0.5% of the existing tugs worldwide. The timing of the Towbot launch is just right when clients are looking to reduce manpower costs, reduce emissions, be able to move tugs easily between ports, and improve ship maneuvering safety.
Though there are no competitors to the Towbot today, continual improvement in the design, and the establishment of a strong technical and business development team will ensure that the Towbot capitalizes on its first mover advantage and remain a world leader in this technology.
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