R&D Resources

Interview with Prof Kalle-Antti Suominen

Maritime Digitalisation and Autonomous Ships

SMI had the opportunity to speak to Professor Kalle-Antti Suominen, Vice Rector at the University of Turku in Finland, on maritime digitalisation and autonomous ships under SMI Horizon, a series of commentaries, interviews and analysis by distinguished academic & industry thought leaders.

  1. As a national strategy of Finland to develop autonomous technology and boost ICT sector, how do you envision University of Turku’s role in developing autonomous technologies for the shipping industry?

    Prof Suominen: I think that we are going to have a very strong role given the initiatives that we have already started on. We have a autonomous shipping collaborative project with the industry and other universities in Finland. I think we are able to contribute significantly because we are a multi-disciplinary university where we look at the whole picture addressing various aspects such as legal, business, technology, ICT, etc. Autonomous shipping is a field that cannot be addressed with just a narrow technological view. So we are going to focus on that and our industry connections.

  2. With about eighty (80) members in the “new business ecosystem” that is largely invested by companies like Cargotec, Rolls-Royce and Wärtsilä, how can the industry-led initiative benefit from collaborations with academic institutions such as University of Turku?

    Prof Suominen: Actually very much. In Finland, we have a lot of these structures in place. We already have a national innovation and technology funding agency, which requires the universities and companies to work together. We are all partners in a company called DIMECC, which is owned by many universities and private companies working in this field. So we have structures in place for this kind of actions.

  3. From increasing digitalisation in the maritime sector to a future vision of fully autonomous ships, what are the vital research capabilities and technologies to enable such transformation? What are the key challenges?

    Prof Suominen: Ah, that’s an interesting question. We would need particularly ICT technologies, sensors and automated systems, communications, and control systems by man or even artificial intelligence. We have quite a wide range of topics we have to address. And it will depend on which way our thinking takes us in this particular field. We would likely start with augmented systems with man still in control, before moving towards lesser human involvement and eventually, who knows where we can go after addressing key fundamental questions.

    Yes, I would say that first of all, this needs to be a global initiative. So we need to get regional agreement on what kind of rules we need? What kind of safety measures we need? What are the operational procedures? What are the accepted technologies? How do we approach the situation given the drastically different context such as Arctic shipping, ships calling at the Port of Singapore, or ferries in the Finnish Archipelago.

  4. How would the role of humans evolve in this transformation with increasing digitalisation and connectivity that are driven by big data?

    Prof Suominen: That is a very good question because we are already noticing problems especially in the developed countries where there’s a lot of jobs that are disappearing. I believe that this trend will continue, thus now the question is: How do we train people in order to counter-act this? What are the needs of the future that we should already anticipate in our training of people? How can we bring in all members of nations into this vision? This is actually one of the key challenges we have to solve. Digitalisation, it’s everywhere. There are already so many things that are already in place that we don’t even realise. This is going to be a very big challenge as we are gradually moving into augmented reality, virtual reality, and then comes the question – how do you define a man within the context of artificial intelligence. So there’s actually quite a lot of challenges and it seems like nobody has clear cut answers to them.

    Yes, and like I said earlier – this is a global thing. No one can solve these problems alone and there might not be a single solution for everybody. But there has to be say local versions or other types of different approaches or maybe even beneficial for us to have competing approaches. So international collaborations allow us to have a global community working on this. Higher education institutes, companies, government actors, NGOs, all have to work together. Let me take for example what we noticed in Finland. In the past, companies very often wanted to engage the universities in programmes where they collectively develop some products or future products for the universities. Now there are more and more companies that prefer this kind of open approach. They want to get the universities to think about this particular field – maybe autonomous shipping, digitalisation, communication. What would be the future trends? Let’s look at them together. And when we get the results, we publish them all freely so that anyone can take them up. So the companies benefit because it creates new markets for them. And for universities there’s new research.

  5. How could international collaborations in the area of digitalisation and autonomous ships create new opportunities for the global maritime sector?

    Prof Suominen: Take for instance, Arctic shipping. We have been discussing the possible use of new sea lanes that might be more appropriate for shorter distances or for other reasons. On the other hand we are talking about more automated port and ship actions. All of these will in one way or another lead to the outcome where certain old business models will disappear and new ones will emerge. This will be a very interesting development but it requires a lot of work, a lot of new ideas and a lot of collaborations. This would facilitate better ease of determining the good ideas for implementation.

    For Finland, international collaborations have always been very important. We are a very small country with only about 5.6 million people, so we have to connect. We believe in education and research – those are our resources. It means that it’s actually the human beings and their ideas, those are the resources we have to cultivate. If we do this under an international context, then I think even small nations can do achieve in a changing world under a much bigger context.

Simulation & Modelling (SAM)

Awarded on 17 Oct 2014

In addition to being one of the busiest ports in the world, Singapore has also likewise thrived as one of the leading global maritime capitals that is highly driven by knowledge-based services and expertise. With changing demands and complexity of port and shipping activities, there would be a need for better management of complex port and ship systems.

With global trend drivers, such as shipping market volatility, environmental regulations, and energy cost-efficiency, advanced technological solutions would be required to address these concerns through innovation in port infrastructure and ship design. Hydrodynamics, physical modelling, and mathematical modelling are some of the scientific means towards more cost-effective and environmentally friendly operations. There has also been proposed methodology that focuses more on integrated systems-approach over independent components-approach.

An integrated systems strategy would also drive the need to manage sophisticated engineering and technology through risk-based approach for higher reliability and asset lifecycle management to bring cost benefits. This would enable users to complement both business and technical objectives.

Building upon the above technological trend towards a greater need for advanced complex systems, higher end training would also be required to produce competent manpower with the critical domain knowledge and skillsets. Looking beyond the conventional field of training through simulation, research in the human-machine interface through applied human engineering studies of maritime ergonomics would also be applicable to optimise interaction between people and technology for safety and productivity best practices.

As part of Singapore Maritime Institute’s (SMI) efforts to support the maritime industry in Singapore, a research grant amounting to S$5 million has been allocated to promote research through this thematic R&D programme. The Simulation & Modelling (SAM) R&D Programme aims to support projects involving the research and development of innovative technologies, approaches and ideas towards simulation & modelling for maritime applications.


Programme Themes

  • Risk Management
  • Human Factor Studies
  • Maritime Training & Operation

Asset Integrity & Risk Management (AIM)

Awarded on 02 Nov 2015

In oil & gas E&P, safe and reliable operations are of paramount importance to the industry. Asset integrity should never be compromised and risk management is critical to ensure lives and marine environment are safeguarded.

With enhanced oil recovery techniques, operators are stretching the existing reserves with assets that are reaching their design service life. These aged assets are often susceptible to failures due to mechanical degradations and harsh offshore environment.

Oil exploration has also inevitably moved into deep-sea as shallower oil wells become depleted. The offshore assets are installed in deeper water and are increasingly inaccessible. The associated cost of asset maintenance increases exponentially for deep-water regions resulting in the need for technological innovations in asset integrity & risk management. Integrity assessment and risk management solutions, anticipation of possible failures of systems and emergency response plans in the event of asset failures would be critical.

The offshore assets covered include offshore structures, subsea and down-hole equipment. The key research objectives are:

a) Identification of safety critical elements (SCEs)
The weakest structural components that are most susceptible to external forces, cyclic loadings and harsh environment known as safety critical elements should be identified.

b) Reduction of reliance on manual inspection
The inaccessible assets in deeper water and harsher environment drive the need for remote and autonomous inspection and maintenance which are increasingly reliant on sensor based technologies.

c) Low hardware overheads
Cost is one of the major considerations when sensors and wireless systems are installed. Such overheads include the cost of manufacturing the sensors and systems, power requirement as well installation compatibility with the existing assets.

d) High reliability systems under harsh environment
The increasingly harsh environment at deeper water with strong waves and currents as well as deeper wells with hostile chemicals and high pressure high temperature (HPHT) pose significant technical challenges. Sensors and systems must survive such environment with high reliability.


Programme Themes

  • Software Development
  • Hardware Development & Deployment
  • New Asset Installation
  • System Level Management

Projects awarded (will be updated progressely):

Joint Call for Proposals in Maritime Research between Norway and Singapore (MNS)

Awarded on 21 Mar 2016

Maritime Research between Norway and Singapore (MNS)

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (“MPA”) and the Research Council of Norway (“RCN”) executed a Memorandum of Understanding on 6th March 2000 (“MOU”) relating to joint co-operation in maritime research, development, education and training. The MOU will be extended for its sixth successive three-year term in 2015.
To further enhance this co-operation, and to facilitate the creation of collaborative projects between the research communities in Singapore and Norway, RCN, MPA and Singapore Maritime Institute (“SMI”) have launched a joint call for bilateral funding of research projects in mutually agreed fields. A total of NOK 15 million is available from RCN for Norwegian partners and up to S$3 million is available from SMI for the Singaporean partners.

Research areas covered

The call is in the field of maritime research. The applications in this call must cover one or more of the following topics:
Maritime arctic research
  • Operational decision support systems and logistics solutions
  • Emergency preparedness, prevention & response

Maritime navigation safety

  • e-Navigation
  • Vessel Traffic Management
  • Data analytics on traffic pattern and risk
  • Ship-shore communication
  • Internet of things at sea

Ship operation & safety

  • Simulation & Training
  • Human factors studies
  • Unmanned ships
  • Remote Piloting
  • Control Room Systems
  • Hull structural design

Green shipping

  • Green fuels
  • Energy efficiency
  • Ballast water
  • Hull cleaning
  • Optimizing routing and operation
  • Hull and propeller design
  • Energy saving devices
  • LNG Bunkering in Shipping

Ship-port operations

  • Port optimization
  • Smart ports

Advanced Materials and Manufacturing (Amm)

Awarded on 01 Aug 2016

Oil and gas exploration and production (E&P) has inevitably moved into harsher operating environment. While oil price has slumped to a very low level, industry is focusing on technology developments to lower the cost of E&P. The fundamental sciences such as chemistry, physics and materials have attracted more attention than before in seeking innovative and disruptive technologies to enhance operational efficiency and improve reliability.


Operations in deeper waters with strong waves and currents pose challenges on structural integrity. Operations in Arctic pose a different set of challenges with extreme low temperature. As industry moves into ultra-deep wells with extreme high pressure and high temperature (HPHT), higher reliability is required in meeting the performance specifications to ensure safe and reliable operations. The underpinning material sciences in different operating regimes are the fundamental challenges to the increasingly harsh E&P environment.


Industry is also constantly innovating new materials for offshore applications as well as smart materials which allow more perimeters to be measured for condition monitoring of offshore structures and processes.


SMI through its engagements with the industry and academia has identified the following research thrusts and corresponding research focus areas under the grant call.  The materials covered in this grant call should be used in offshore structures, subsea and down-hole equipment with the following key research objectives:


  1. New materials development and materials enhancement to meet the operating needs under harsher environment while maintaining cost competitiveness
  2. Smart materials developments which allow condition monitoring and improve operational efficiency in the E&P lifecycle
  3. Testing methodologies developments to improve the accuracy of materials assessment and/or allow in-situ assessment to determine real-life residual life and fatigue conditions
  4. Enhancement of materials processability to improve performance and reliability of processed materials and structures


Programme Themes

  • New Materials Development
  • Materials Enhancement
  • Material Testing
  • Material Processing & Manufacturing

Maritime Sustainability (MSA)

Awarded on 04 Jan 2016

Given its location at the crossroad between East and West trade, Singapore is one of the busiest ports in the world for commercial shipping and maritime services. Last year, the Port of Singapore welcomed more than 135,000 vessels and handled a total of 560 million tonnes of cargo. The maritime industry is an important part of Singapore’s economy as it is one of the fastest growing economic sectors, contributing to 7% of Singapore’s GDP.

To address one of the key challenges facing the maritime industry on sustainable shipping, research and development into innovative technologies to transform maritime transportation and port operations will enhance both regulatory compliance and better service offerings by the industry.

SMI through its engagements with the industry and academia has identified the following research areas and possible corresponding research topics under the Maritime Sustainability grant call to support maritime developments and environment protection:


a) Ballast Water Management
Possible Research Topics include Detection and Measuring Equipment / Treatment System, Treatment Technology, and Risk Assessment for Ballast Water Management System.


b) Exhaust Emission Control
Possible Research Topics include Scrubbing / Cleaning Technology, Tools and Systems.


c) Ship Noise & Vibration
Possible Research Topics include Simulation & Modelling, Materials, and Ship Design and Construction.


d) Port Sustainability
Possible Research Topics include Port Air Emission Control Technology, Cleaner Energy for Port, Port Waste-to-Resource Management, and Energy Conservation.

Programme Themes

  • Ballast Water Management
  • Exhaust Emission Control
  • Ship Noise & Vibration
  • Port Sustainability

MPA and SMI Joint Call for Proposals 2020 on Harbour Craft Electrification

Awarded on 01 Oct 2021

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) and the Singapore Maritime Institute (SMI) have awarded funding to three consortiums led by Keppel FELS Limited, SeaTech Solutions and Sembcorp Marine, and comprising a total of 30 enterprises and research institutions, to research, design, build and operate a fully electric harbourcraft over the next five years. These electrification pilot projects will demonstrate both commercial and technical viability of specific use cases for full electric harbourcraft and will support Singapore’s broader plans to mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by the maritime transport sector.


Harbourcraft Electrification Projects

No Consortium lead  Consortium members Project Scope
1 Keppel FELS Limited


  1. DNV
  2. Eng Hup Shipping

(Vessel owner/operator)

  1. Envision Digital
  2. Surbana Jurong

IHLs/ research institutes

  1. Nanyang Technological University (NTU)
  2. Technology Centre for Offshore and Marine, Singapore
To develop Solid State Transformer based shore charger & electric kit on an existing 30 pax ferry
2 SeaTech Solutions International (S) Pte Ltd


  1. Batam Fast Ferry Pte Ltd
  2. Bernhard Schulte (Singapore) Holdings Pte Ltd
  3. DM Sea Logistics Pte Ltd
  4. Jurong Port Pte Ltd
  5. Kenoil Marine Services Pte Ltd
  6. Lita Ocean Pte Ltd
  7. Marina Offshore Pte Ltd
  8. Rina Hong Kong Limited Singapore Branch
  9. Sterling PBES Energy Solutions Ltd.
  10. Yinson Production Offshore Pte Ltd

(Vessel owner)

IHLs/ research institutes

  1. Singapore Institute of Technology
  2. Technology Centre for Offshore and Marine, Singapore
To develop a full electric lighter craft[i]
3 Sembcorp Marine Integrated Yard Pte Ltd


  1. ABB Pte Ltd
  2. Durapower Holdings Pte Ltd
  3. Jurong Marine Services Pte Ltd
  4. OPL Services Pte Ltd
  5. Rolls-Royce Singapore Pte Ltd
  6. SP One Pte Ltd
  7. Tian San Shipping Pte Ltd

(Vessel Owner/ operator)

  1. York Launch Pte Ltd

IHLs/ research institutes

  1. A-STAR Institute of High-Performance Computing
  2. Nanyang Technological University
  3. National University of Singapore
  4. Singapore Institute of Technology
To develop and build a full electric ferry for 200 persons for a specific route
[i] A lighter craft is a vessel used for the carriage of dry or packaged cargoes.