By Rachel Horne, Trusted Autonomous Systems and Rob Dickie, Frazer-Nash Consultancy (a KBR company)
Trusted Autonomous Systems, funded by the Queensland State Government, has been at the forefront of developing tools and resources to support the autonomous systems ecosystem in navigating regulatory pathways.
Autonomous and remotely operated vessels face unique challenges when it comes to complying with maritime regulations. For instance, they must comply with COLREGs, the “rules of the road” for preventing collisions at sea. However, these rules were introduced in 1972, with the assumption that vessels would have humans on board, keeping a lookout and making decisions.
To address this challenge, TAS and Frazer-Nash Consultancy collaborated to create the COLREGs Operator Guidance Framework. This game-changer framework provides clarity and guidance on understanding how COLREGs applies to autonomous and remotely operated vessels. It clearly describes the capabilities necessary to comply with each rule, ensuring consistency and repeatability in decision-making.
You can access the COLREGs Operator Guidance Framework via RASGateway.com.au
What does the framework do?
The COLREGs Operator Guidance Framework translates the human-centric terminology used in COLREGs into a language that makes sense for autonomous and remotely operated vessels. The framework:
- Helps vessel designers understand the capabilities that COLREGs require vessels to have.
- Assists operators in comprehending COLREGs requirements and explains how mission planning can mitigate or eliminate complex rules; and
- Enables a regulator to apply a consistent methodology when assessing a vessel’s ability to comply with COLREGs.
The COLREGs Operator Guidance Framework can be used to best effect when there is a specific vessel and mission in mind.
How does the framework work in practice?
Let’s take an example:
COLREGs Rule 5 states, “Vessels shall always maintain a look-out by sight, hearing, and all available and effective means for the circumstances.” Sight and hearing are human-centric senses, and the interpretation of “all available and effective means” is quite subjective.
Here’s where the COLREGs Operator Guidance Framework comes into play. It translates this rule into a list of tangible capabilities, such as:
- Detecting the presence of and categorising other vessels using video cameras.
- Detecting light signals and sound signals produced by other vessels, and
- Detecting the presence of other vessels using radar or the global Automatic Identification System.
Identifying these capabilities, which can be present on or offboard the vessel, makes COLREGs relatable to autonomous and remotely operated vessels, providing a practical roadmap to compliance.
How will the framework support the autonomous systems ecosystem?
We know some of the previous capabilities are easier said than done. The framework recognises this by supporting adaptable solutions to compliance, for example by allowing users to:
- Successfully identify the capabilities required by each rule, so that they can check whether a specific autonomous vessel can feasibly demonstrate these during a specific mission, or
- Instead implement mitigation strategies such as remote operator supervision or route alterations to avoid a risk of non-compliance.
The COLREGs Operator Guidance Framework is not a set of mandatory requirements. Instead, it’s a pragmatic toolkit, making COLREGs requirements relatable to autonomous and remotely operated vessels, enabling vessel designers, operators, and regulators to demonstrate and assess compliance, and more broadly navigate the challenges and opportunities of the maritime autonomous system ecosystem.
For more information on the COLREGs, and to access the COLREGs Operator Guidance Framework and supplementary digital tools, visit now rasgateway.com/colregs.
An earlier TAS News Post, published in August 2021 provides additional background and contextual information on the project. This is available here – Enabling COLREGs Compliance for Autonomous & Remotely Operated Vessels – Trusted Autonomous Systems (tasdcrc.com.au).
Request for feedback
Trusted Autonomous Systems welcomes feedback on the COLREGs Operator Guidance Framework via our email firstname.lastname@example.org. In particular, if you have used the framework, please get in touch, and let us know how it went, what worked and what didn’t, and what recommendations you may have for improvement.
TAS would like to thank all parties who contributed to the development of the COLREGs Operator Guidance Framework. This includes in particular Rob Dickie of Frazer Nash Consultancy who led the COLREGs project on TAS’s behalf, together with his team Marceline Overduin and Andrejs Jaudzems. TAS would also like to thank the team at Aginic who created the COLREGs Operator Guidance Tool and COLREGs Explorer Tool published on RASGateway.com.au, including particularly Pietair Keurulainen, Emma Freya, Jasmine Gardner, Dong Zhou, Sommer Deo, Alex Vaskevich, and Vinnie Crema. TAS would also like to thank former and current TAS staff who contributed to the project, including Rachel Horne, Dr Kate Devitt, Dr Tara Roberson, Tom Putland, and Mark Guthrie.
This project received funding support from the Queensland Government through Trusted Autonomous Systems (TAS), a Defence Cooperative Research Centre funded through the Commonwealth Next Generation Technologies Fund and the Queensland Government.