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Yanzhuo Xue

a,n

, D. Clelland

b

, B.S. Lee

c

, Duanfeng Han

a

a

College of Shipbuilding Engineering, Harbin Engineering University, Heilongjiang, China

b

Department of Naval Architecture & Marine Engineering, University of Strathclyde, 100 Montrose Street, Glasgow, UK

c

Safety at Sea Ltd., 280 St. Vincent Street, Glasgow, UK

a r t i c l e i n f o

Article history:

Received 22 March 2011

Accepted 16 October 2011

Editor-in-Chief: A.I. Incecik

Keywords:

Automatic ship navigation systems

Potential eld method

Route nding

Collision avoidance

a b s t r a c t

Automatic simulation programs of ship navigation can be a powerful tool for operational planning and

design studies of waterways. In such a simulation system the key tasks of autonomous route-nding

and collision-avoidance are performed by the simulation program itself with no or minimum

intervention of a human navigator. This is in many ways similar to automatic navigation systems in

that they are designed to carry out autonomous navigation safely and efciently without the need for

human intervention or to offer advice to the navigator regarding the best course of action to take in

certain situations. There are two key tasks of automatic ship navigation systems: route nding and

collision avoidance. This paper presents an effective and practical method for nding safe passage

for ships in possible collision situations, based on the potential eld method. The general steps of

implementing the potential eld method applied to automatic ship navigation are described. The

algorithm is fairly straightforward to implement, and is shown to be effective in automatic ship

handling for ships involved in complex navigation situations.

& 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction

In normal maritime navigation situations and pilot-controlled

navigation simulation systems it is the responsibility of the

human pilot to assess the trafc situation, decide the safest and

most direct route to the destination and issue the requisite ship

control commands, adjusting them as and when necessary in

response to the changing trafc and environmental situations.

Simulation of ship navigation in congested waterways is a very

useful tool in the design and operational planning of such waterways

as inland waterways, approaches to harbours and narrow channels.

Most of the current simulation systems rely on experienced human

navigators to control the ship. Fast track simulation is difcult to use

in these systems and consequently they are time- and resource-

intensive to use. On the other hand, automatic simulation of ship

navigation will be able to overcome much of these problems.

Due to increases in trafc, speeds and sizes of modern vessels,

todays waterways and harbours are becoming busier and the

navigation environment is becoming more complex. Increasing

congestion in navigation channels has led to continued unaccep-

tably high levels of occurrences of marine accidents despite

considerable advances in navigational aids and equipment. It is

without question that collision is one of the most severe marine

accidents with potentially catastrophic consequences. The ships

operational procedures for collision avoidance are not very com-

plex, but require the full attention and a good judgement of the

navigator. This is especially true in areas of heavy trafc, such as

coastal zones and narrow sea passages. In these areas collision

avoidance takes on increased signicance, and the increased

threat of possible collisions gives navigators signicantly more

pressure and work load.

An automatic ship navigation system, probably used as an

advisory tool to start with, would be an effective assistant to the

crew contributing considerably to safe and efcient navigation. It

would be able to guide the navigator in determining the safe and

near-optimum trajectory for the ship. In the future, it is quite

possible that trustworthy intelligent machines may be developed

to navigate ships within waterways and ports without human

supervision (Statheros et al., 2008).

This paper is concerned with automatic simulation of ship

navigation only. However, in either an automatic simulation system

of ship navigation or an automatic ship navigation system, one of

the key elements is an intelligent decision-making capability. The

problem of intelligent decision-making is connected with collision

avoidance manoeuvres and route planning of vessels. In recent years,

intensive research on automatic ship navigation has been carried out

along with developments in computer hardware and software algo-

rithms. Iijima and Hagiwara (1994) applied expert systems in ship

autonomous navigation to assess the collision situation and make

a decision. Smierzchalski (1996) adopted evolutionary algorithms to

Contents lists available at SciVerse ScienceDirect

journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/oceaneng

Ocean Engineering

0029-8018/$ - see front matter & 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

doi:10.1016/j.oceaneng.2011.10.011

n

Corresponding author. Tel.: 86 451 8251 9193; fax: 86 451 8251 8443.

E-mail address: xueyanzhuo@gmail.com (Y. Xue).

Ocean Engineering 38 (2011) 22902305

develop a ship guidance system for possible collision scenarios. Ito

et al. (1999) employed genetic algorithms to compute the collision

avoidance navigation path. Harris et al. (1999) proposed an intelligent

guidance and control system using a neuro-fuzzy network model for

ship obstacle avoidance. Hwang et al. (2001) developed a system for

collision avoidance and track-keeping employing fuzzy logic. Liu and

Shi (2005) developed a fuzzy-neural inference network model for

ship collision avoidance. Yang et al. (2007) developed the system

of Vessel Intelligent Collision Avoidance Decision-making (VICAD)

based on articial intelligence methods which combines the princi-

ples of expert systems, analytic geometry and fuzzy logic.

In general, numerous attempts have been made in the past using

different approaches to develop an automatic navigation system.

Most of the reported studies can generate collision-free paths for

the vessel, but the work is by no means complete. For example,

some methods are relatively complex and time-consuming and some

systems either ignore collision prevention regulations (COLREGS) or

are incapable of describing the complex encounter situations in

detail. There are three important problems which have not been

effectively addressed in existing research work (Xue et al., 2009):

(a) Navigational rules, including regulations of preventing colli-

sions at sea and the normal practice of mariners, are usually

not taken into consideration in route planning.

(b) Most of the proposed approaches consider encounters with

other vessels (strange ships) in an open sea environment only

(i.e. there is no land involved in the process of route planning)

and assume that the target ships do not change their courses.

(c) Most research work is able to simulate movement of the own

ship, but assumes that all other trafc maintains a known

direction and speed of travel throughout the simulation.

To address the deciencies mentioned above and simulate

realistic situations, such as when many vessels use conned

waterways simultaneously, a new approach is required. Ideally,

this method should be simple and effective whilst taking advan-

tage of the state-of-the-art technology in this area of research.

2. Manoeuvring model used

Accurate and safe navigation requires precise knowledge of

the manoeuvring behaviour of the ship. In order to represent a

manoeuvring ship fully in space a mathematical model with six

degrees of freedom is required. To simplify the problem, it is

assumed that the steering of a ship can be regarded as a rigid-

body motion on the horizontal plane, as is customary. Thus,

the mathematical model is reduced to three degrees of freedom.

Nomenclature

a angle between the relative position and the relative

speed

b angle between the tangential line and the relative

position

a positive scalar parameter

f factor used in collision avoidance distance

m positive constant determining the shape of the

destination

n positive constant

n

obs

number of obstacles

Z positive scaling factor

y parameter used in cubic spline

r

RO

shortest distance between the robot and the obstacle

r

O

limit distance of the repulsive potential eld

inuence

c ships heading

~

c ships heading error

o

n

natural frequency

x relative damping ratio

l factor

u,v surge speed and sway speed, respectively

_ u, _ v surge and sway acceleration, respectively

r, _ r yaw rate and yaw acceleration, respectively

~ r yaw rate error

d rudder angle

(x

i

(y),y

i

(y)) position of the vessel

C

A

collision avoidance distance

C

E

position evaluation error

C

R

checking collision range

C

S

safe passing distance

F

!

att

attractive force

F

!

rep

repulsive force

F

!

total

total force

I

Z

yaw moment of inertia of the ship

K gain constant

K

d

derivative gain constant

K

i

integral gain constant

K

p

proportional gain constant

L

OW

length of own ship

L

pp

length of ship between perpendiculars

L

TA

length of strange ship

N yaw moment

p

!

point on the water surface

p

!

t position of ship at time t

p

!

d

destination position of ship

p

O

positive constant describing the inuence range of

the obstacle

p

S

shortest distance between the ship and the obstacle

surface

P

!

O

position vector of own ship

P

!

T

position vector of the strange ship

P

!

OS

distance between own ship and the point of

intersection

P

!

OT

distance between own ship and the strange ship

T time constant

U

!

p

!

gravity potential energy

U

!

att

p

!

attractive potential energy

U

!

rep

p

!

repulsive potential energy

V

!

O

speed vector of own ship

V

!

T

speed vector of target ship

V

!

OT

relative speed between own ship and target ship

X force applied on the ship in the x-direction

Y force applied on the ship in the y-direction

Abbreviations

COLREGS International Regulations for Preventing Collision at

Sea

GNRON Goal Non-Reachable with Obstacle Nearby

VICAD Vessel Intelligent Collision Avoidance Decision-

making

Y. Xue et al. / Ocean Engineering 38 (2011) 22902305 2291

With the global and ship coordinate systems shown in Fig. 1, the

equation of motion can be written as (Fossen, 1994)

Surge m _ uvrx

G

r

2

X 1

Sway m _ vur x

G

r

2

Y 2

Yaw I

Z

_ r mx

G

_ vur N 3

where m is the mass of the ship; u, v represent the surge speed

and the sway speed, respectively; _ u, _ v represent the surge and the

sway acceleration, respectively; r, _ r are the yaw rate and the yaw

acceleration, respectively; X is the force applied on the ship in the

x-direction; Y is the force applied on the ship in the y-direction;

I

Z

is the yaw moment of inertia of the ship; N is the yaw moment.

The forces X, Y and moment N can be expressed as functions of

the state variables u, v, r, their time derivatives _ u, _ v, _ r and the

rudder angle d:

X Xu,v,r, _ u, _ v, _ r,d 4

Y Yu,v,r, _ u, _ v, _ r,d 5

N Nu,v,r, _ u, _ v, _ r,d 6

This model of the ship that includes surge, sway and yaw will

yield sufcient information to show the manoeuvring behaviour

of the ship.

3. Potential eld method applied to route nding for a ship

The potential eld method was rst used by Khatib (1986) for

robot path planning in the 1980s. In this method, a potential eld is

dened in the conguration space such that it has a minimum

potential at the goal conguration. While the target is ideally at the

minimum, all obstacles, or walls, are treated as high potential hills. In

such a potential eld, the robot is attracted to its goal position and

repulsed from any obstacles. This method is particularly attractive

because of its mathematical elegance and simplicity. Furthermore,

from a computational point of view, no prior processing is required

and the method is capable of automatically indicating dynamic

behaviour necessary to avoid all obstacles. It allows real-time robot

operations in a complex environment and is currently widely used

for path planning of mobile robots. When this type of route planning

is used at every time step, for example, in a dynamic environment,

the process can be called route nding.

In ship autonomous navigation, Lee et al. (2004) introduced a

fuzzy logic autonomous navigation algorithm based on virtual

eld force (VFF) which is derived from the concept of potential

eld method. Shi et al. (2007) adopted stream function algorithm,

which is another category of potential eld method, to solve

automatic ship navigation.

Ship route nding is, in a sense, similar to the path planning of

a mobile robot. Consider an obstacle in the way of a direct route

between the starting point and the destination point of a ship. The

shortest route for the ship to follow is shown in blue line (desired

track) in Fig. 2. However, the actual safe route will be something

like that shown as the actual track. This actual track can be

determined by applying the potential eld method.

Since the ship is pulled towards the destination point, the

potential energy responsible for it acts in a way reminiscent of

gravitational potential energy. The total potential energy of any

point is the sum of the attractive potential due to the destination

point and the repulsive potential due to the obstacle:

U

!

p

!

U

!

att

p

!

U

!

rep

p

!

7

where U

!

p

!

is the total potential energy; U

!

att

p

!

is the potential

energy due to attraction towards destination point; U

!

rep

p

!

is the

potential energy due to repulsion of the obstacle; p

!

denotes a

point on the water surface.

The ship then is subjected to a force which is derived from this

potential eld as follows:

F

!

F

!

att

F

!

rep

8

where F

!

att

grad U

!

att

p

!

, F

!

rep

grad U

!

rep

p

!

. F

!

att

may be

called the attractive force as it pulls the ship towards the

destination; F

!

rep

is repulsive force as it pushes the ship away

from the obstacle. The feasible path can now be found by

following the direction of the total force at any given position.

More than one obstacle can be accounted for by summing all the

repulsive forces due to the obstacles.

3.1. Attractive potential function

The attractive potential is a function of the relative distance

between the ship and the destination point. The main character-

istics of this function should be that the value is high when they

are far apart, but then reduces gradually until it becomes nil at

the destination. The attractive potential function can, therefore,

be written as follows:

U

!

att

p

!

a: p

!

d

p

!

t:

m

9

where p

!

d

and p

!

t denote the destination position and the position

of ship at time t, respectively; : p

!

d

p

!

t: is the Euclidean distance

y

0G

x

0G

G

V

O

x

0

x

y

0

y

r

Fig. 1. Global and ship coordinate systems.

Start

Desired Track

Obstacle

Destination

A

t

t

r

a

c

t

i

v

e

F

o

r

c

e

Total Force

Repulsive

Force

Actual Track

Fig. 2. Potential eld in ships route nding. (For interpretation of the references

to colour in this gure, the reader is referred to the web version of this article.)

Y. Xue et al. / Ocean Engineering 38 (2011) 22902305 2292

between the ship at time t and the destination position; a is a scalar

positive parameter; m is a positive constant.

The corresponding virtual attractive force is dened as the

negative gradient of the attractive potential:

F

!

att

p

!

rU

!

att

p

!

@U

!

att

p

!

@ p

!

10

Substituting (9) into (10),

F

!

att

p

!

ma: p

!

d

p

!

t:

m1

11

The shape of attractive potential function can be modied by

varying the value of m, and the strength of the attractive potential

eld can be modied by changing the value of a.

3.2. Repulsive potential function

Unlike the attractive potential of the destination, the repulsive

potential of an obstacle is local in that the area of inuence of an

obstacle is limited to its vicinity. Furthermore, it is logical to

assume that the strength of the eld will increase from 0 at the

border of inuence to a maximum (an innity) at the obstacle

itself.

When the potential eld method was used for path planning of

mobile robots, a problem known as GNRON (Goal Non-Reachable

with Obstacle Nearby) was found in some cases. In applying the

potential led method for route nding in ship navigation, the

GNRON problem is likely to be encountered frequently and a

provision has to be made for such a situation. For example, the

destination point (target) can be near other structures (such as

jetty), and consequently the point with the global minimum

potential may not be at the destination position. As a result, the

ship cannot reach the correct target point. In order to alleviate

this problem, the following form of repulsive potential function

was used and was found to be satisfactory in this regard:

U

!

rep

p

!

1

2

Z

1

p

s

1

p

o

_ _

2

: p

!

tp

!

d

:

n

if p

s

rp

o

0 if p

s

4p

o

_

_

_

12

where U

!

rep

p

!

denotes the repulsive potential generated by the

obstacle; Z and n are the constants; p

s

is the shortest Euclidean

distance between the ship and the obstacle surface; p

o

is a

positive constant describing the inuence range of the obstacle.

Similar to the denition of the attractive force, the correspond-

ing repulsive force is dened as the negative gradient of the

repulsive potential in terms of position:

F

!

rep

p

!

rU

!

rep

p

!

@U

!

rep

p

!

@ p

!

13

Substituting (12) into (13),

F

!

rep

p

!

F

!

rep1

F

!

rep2

if p

s

rp

o

0 if p

s

4p

o

_

14

where

F

!

rep1

Z

1

p

s

1

p

o

_ _

1

p

2

s

: p

!

tp

!

d

:

n

F

!

rep2

n

2

Z

1

p

s

1

p

o

_ _

2

: p

!

tp

!

d

:

n1

15

3.3. Total potential function

The total potential and the total virtual force can be obtained

from Eqs. (7) and (8).

In the case where there are multiple obstacles, the repulsive

force is given by

F

!

rep

p

!

n

obs

i 1

F

!

rep

i

16

where n

obs

is the number of obstacles and F

!

rep

i

is the repulsive

force generated by the ith obstacle.

The ow chart of potential eld method described in the above

sections is given in Fig. 3.

3.4. Representation of obstacles

One of the main tasks in applying the potential eld method

for ship route nding concerns the representation of obstacles.

They can be represented by a number of primitives, including

point, line and arc. Primarily for the reason of simplicity and

superior exibility, point primitives are selected in this work.

Larger obstacles, such as coastlines and islands, can be repre-

sented as a series of point obstacles judiciously placed on the

boundaries as shown in Fig. 4. A utility program to generate the

point obstacles semi-automatically was developed and sample

screen shots of the program outputs are shown in Fig. 5.

3.5. Limitations of the potential eld method

When the potential eld method was applied to ship route

nding, several limitations inherent in the potential eld method

came to light under certain conditions and of these local minima

problem and oscillations in narrow passages were two main

deciencies (Koren and Borenstein, 1991).

As an example of local minima limitation, consider the case

shown in Fig. 6 where the ship is proceeding towards its

destination and a point obstacle exists exactly in line with the

destination. The repulsive force, F

rep

, and the attractive force, F

att

,

Ship state parameter

inputs P(t), Pd and U

Calculation of attractive

force Fatt

Calculation of the distance

between the ship and the

obstacle surface Ps

Calculation of avoidance

direction

If Ps < Po

Calculation of repulsive

force Frep

Repulsive force

Frep= 0

Calculation of total

force F

N

Y

Calculation of ships

dynamic position

Fig. 3. Flow chart of the potential eld method.

Y. Xue et al. / Ocean Engineering 38 (2011) 22902305 2293

will be directly in line and there will be no component normal to

the ships heading. No safe route can be found in this case and the

ship will simply get stuck at the bottom of the local minimum.

This problem is overcome simply by giving a small initial devia-

tion in its heading to break it out of its trap, if the ship has an

initial non-zero speed. If, for any reason, the initial speed is zero

and the local minimum problem occurs, the ship is given a small

displacement sideways without changing the heading.

For the limitation of oscillations in narrow passages, consider

the case shown in Fig. 7. The ships start position is at (0,0) (km),

the destination is at (50,45) (km) and the speed is 6.2 m/s. The

value of P

o

is set 3 km.

In this particular case, it was found that the ship got stuck after

a few oscillations. This limitation could be overcome through the

following two methods:

(a) Modify the obstacle points as shown in Fig. 8. In this case, one

obstacle point was removed and this appears to have solved

the problem in this particular situation.

(b) In Fig. 9, the strength of repulsive eld was modied and this

appears to have resolved the problem as well.

Although these limitations do exist in ship navigation, they are

uncommon because most waterways have well-dened routes

often strictly regulated by local laws. If, for any reason, these

situations do occur in a simulation, there are a few adjustments

that can be made, although it means an operator intervention.

4. Automatic collision avoidance

As mentioned previously, many methods of collision avoid-

ance either do not take the international regulations for prevent-

ing collision into consideration or are incapable of describing the

Fig. 5. Sample screen shots of the program generating obstacle points. (a) The built map and (b) the map with the obstacle points placed automatically by the program.

Fig. 6. Local minimum problem.

Fig. 7. Ship oscillates in a narrow passage. Fig. 4. Coastline is represented as a series of point obstacles.

Y. Xue et al. / Ocean Engineering 38 (2011) 22902305 2294

complex encounter situations at sea in detail. Sometimes the

route recommended by these systems is against what the good

seamanship or the regulations of collision avoidance would

dictate. Furthermore, many methods are associated with optimi-

sation algorithms whose goal is to identify an optimum or near

optimum route between the provided waypoints which are

determined a-priori. However, in some situations, such as busy

channels and harbours, the number of moving obstacles in

addition to static ones might be quite signicant, making the

pre-determined waypoints almost useless in a situation of micro-

navigation. In such cases it may not be meaningful to designate

waypoints in advance, or adhere to them rigidly when they are

designated. Therefore, the objective of this study is not to solve an

optimisation problem for a pre-dened set of waypoints, but to

achieve collision avoidance in real time. This, after all, is how the

ship masters operate.

For ships at sea, navigational rules, such as collision regula-

tions (COLREGS) will also have to be obeyed.

4.1. Determining the situation of possible collision

The COLREGS dene the rules for navigation and collision

avoidance. They are the highway codes at sea and are essential for

collision avoidance and as such referenced throughout this paper.

Further details concerning these rules and others can be found in

Crockcroft and Lameijer (1996).

According to COLREGS, the navigator has to decide if a risk of

collision exists and, if it does, determine what manoeuvre to carry

out in order to avoid a collision. Similarly an automatic navigation

system rstly has to decide by itself whether such a risk exists

and then, if it does, take actions for avoiding it. Since there are no

clear criteria for determining when the risk of collision is high

enough to cause concern, a collision detection algorithm has to be

formalised. For this some parameters need to be dened.

(a) Collision avoidance distance: Collision avoidance distance C

A

is

used to dene navigational boundaries. It is the smallest

possible distance between two passing vessels which must

be maintained for avoiding collision, dened here as

C

A

L

OW

L

TA

17

where L

OW

and L

TA

are the lengths of own ship and strange

ship, respectively. This criterion can also be interpreted as the

centre point of the own ship not crossing the circle of radius

of (L

OW

L

TA

) with the centre at the centre point of the

strange ship.

(b) Safe passing distance: In real navigation it is common practice

to allow for uncertainties, such as weather conditions and

current, to give any obstacles as wide a berth as prudence

would dictate. This can be simply represented using a safety

factor, an allowance for the relative speed of the two ships

and an allowance for possible error in position xing as

follows:

C

S

f C

A

C

E

V

r

T 18

where C

S

is the position evaluation error, f is a safety factor, V

r

is

the relative approach speed of the two ships and T is the time

that operator takes to make a decision. Different values for f may

be adopted depending on the situation and visibility (Hilgert and

Baldauf, 1997). C

S

determined in this manner, when plotted

around the strange ship, will depict a misshapen circle, like the

outline of an egg perhaps. The safe passing distance is dynami-

cally updated at every time step of the simulation.

(c) Range of collision checking: In some situations, a number of

ships may be in the vicinity of the own vessel. However, not

all of them may be in a potential collision situation. Therefore,

an important issue in collision avoidance is to determine

under what circumstances the risk of collision needs to be

evaluated so that the ships which are quite safe from any

danger of collision, can be ltered out. It is reasonable to

assume that the most crucial factor determining this will be

the distance between the two ships. The distance at which a

ship begins to receive a close scrutiny to evaluate the collision

risk is termed collision checking range C

R

here. The magnitude

of C

R

depends on the prevailing weather conditions, sailing

area and the speed of the own ship.

4.2. Strategy for collision avoidance

As described previously in Section 3, the potential eld

method has been found to be effective in avoiding stationary

Fig. 8. One obstacle point is removed.

Fig. 9. Field strength of one obstacle was modied.

Y. Xue et al. / Ocean Engineering 38 (2011) 22902305 2295

obstacles. However, the situation becomes more complex when

the obstacle is moving, as for example, when two ships are sailing

towards the same point at the same time. In this situation,

COLREGS state that one ship should maintain course and speed

(stand-on vessel), while the other is responsible for the avoidance

manoeuvre (give-way vessel) (COLREGS 16 and 17). The avoiding

manoeuvres to be taken, therefore, should be in accordance with

the regulations which all maritime trafc is required to adhere to.

The pictorial representation of this strategy for collision

avoidance of two ships is given in Fig. 10.

The inside radius of the circle around the strange ship is the

collision avoidance distance C

A

and the outside radius is the safe

passing distance C

S

estimated for the situation given. The magni-

tude of vector P

!

OT

is the distance between the own ship and the

strange ship at time t. P

!

OT

can be written as

P

!

OT

P

!

T

P

!

O

19

where P

!

T

and P

!

O

are the position vectors of the strange ship and

own ship, respectively.

S is the point of intersection of P

!

OT

and a circle of radius C

S

with the centre at the midship of the strange ship. P

!

OS

can be

written as

P

!

OS

P

!

OT

C

S

20

V

!

OT

is the relative velocity of the own ship with respect to that of

the strange ship, i.e.

V

!

OT

V

!

O

V

!

T

21

where V

!

O

and V

!

T

denote the velocities of own ship and strange

ship at time t, respectively.

A straight line is drawn from the position of the own ship

tangential to the circle around the strange ship as shown in the

illustration. Then b is dened as the angle between this tangent

line and the relative position vector P

!

OT

. a is the angle between

the relative position vector P

!

OT

and the relative speed vector V

!

OT

.

If the distance between the own ship and the strange ship

9 P

!

OT

9 is less than the range of collision checking C

R

, then the own

ship starts examining this particular strange ship with a view to

establish if the collision risk exists. The risk of collision exists if

the extension of the relative velocity V

!

OT

of the two ships crosses

a circle of radius C

S

around the strange ship. This condition can be

formalised as aob. Thus the two necessary conditions for the

existence of potential collision risk in two-ship encounter situa-

tion are the following:

(a) the distance between the two ships is less than the collision

checking range, i.e. 9 P

!

OT

9oC

R

;

(b) the extension of the relative velocity V

!

OT

of the two ships

crosses a circle of radius C

S

around the strange ship, i.e. aob.

The strategy for collision detection, therefore, is reduced to

checking angles a and b at each time step. If aob, the situation

can be rectied by changing the velocity of either or both ships. In

practice, this means changing the speed and/or heading of either

or both ships. As a rule, ship masters do not like changing speed

as the primary means of navigation unless it is unavoidable. Thus,

it is more likely that changing heading would be used as the

primary means of avoiding a collision in normal circumstances.

This is the primary strategy adopted for avoiding a collision in this

work, but in emergency situations where a collision cannot be

avoided by changing heading alone, the method of reducing speed

may also have to be used. However, such emergencies only occur

when appropriate preventive action is not taken in good time.

When there are more than two ships in relative proximity, the

situation can become much more complicated as shown in

Fig. 11. To make matters worse, there is no rule dealing speci-

cally with the cases of multi-ship encounter situation. In order

to deal with these problems and also to imbue the automatic

simulation program with more realism than evidenced hitherto,

the software developed in this work nds a safe route not only for

the own ship but also for all the ships concerned. In other words,

the program considers each moving ship in turn as the own ship.

The procedure adopted for this purpose can be summarised as

follows:

At each time step the system examines each ship in turn to see

if it is within the collision checking range and with which

ship(s).

If the ship is within the checking range with one or more ships,

then the collision detection procedure described above is

applied for each strange ship.

If there is more than one strange ship, the system will decide

which ships are faced with the highest threats and give them

the highest priority. This step is fundamental to ensure multi-

ple ship collision avoidance.

This process is repeated throughout the entire simulation

while the ship is in motion.

The prioritisation is carried out as follows:

(1) The existence of a static obstacle: Ships which need to avoid

static obstacles will be given the highest priority to man-

oeuvre, because their avoidance manoeuvre is necessary

regardless of whether or not they face threats from other

ships.

Fig. 11. Multiple ships encounter situation.

V

o P

OT

O

V

OT

b

a

S

T

C

A

C

S

Strange Ship

P

OS

Own Ship

V

T

Fig. 10. Basic strategy of avoiding collision in the case of two ships encountering.

Y. Xue et al. / Ocean Engineering 38 (2011) 22902305 2296

(2) The distance 9 p

!

OS

9: This distance is used to determine which

pair of ships is in the most imminent danger. The pair of ships

with the shortest distance 9 p

!

OS

9 is given the next highest

priority.

(3) Encounter type: If the above two conditions are the same, then

the encounter type of each pair of ships is taken into

consideration. The highest priority is given to the head-on

situation, followed by the strange ship crossing from port to

starboard, the strange ship overtaking, the strange ship cross-

ing from starboard to port and nally the strange ship being

overtaken.

5. Dynamic route generation and heading control

5.1. Dynamic route generation

In most of the previous studies, the ships waypoints are

dened in advance and the route is xed. In real navigation,

however, the environment in which the ship sails changes

continuously, and, therefore, to simulate ship navigation in real

time, the ship states (including the route to follow) need to be

updated at every time step in the simulation. Consequently,

having a set of xed waypoints is not very helpful except as a

rough guidance to follow, as they will be renewed at every time

step any way. The simulation program developed in this work,

therefore, only generates the part of the route closest to the

current position. At the next time step this manoeuvring require-

ment may have to be altered due to the changing circumstances

or the difculty in implementing the required manoeuvre.

This procedure can thus be called dynamic route generation or

micro planning. Fig. 12 shows how dynamic route generation is

executed.

Since the waypoints are reset at every time step during the

simulation, the ships route dynamically responds to changes in

the navigation environment. This is one major way in which the

current study differs from previous work.

5.2. Cubic spline for route generation

After generating the dynamic waypoints, a cubic spline is used

to interpolate between the waypoints. In this way every segment

of the route can be described by a unique cubic polynomial,

expressed in a parameterised form (Fossen, 2002):

x

i

y a

3

y

3

a

2

y

2

a

1

ya

0

22

y

i

y b

3

y

3

b

2

y

2

b

1

yb

0

23

where (x

i

(y),y

i

(y)) are the positions of a point on the route and y is

the parameter.

There are many textbooks (see e.g. Rogers and Adams, 1990)

and papers describing the basic principles of cubic spline techni-

que, and therefore the methods are not discussed any further

here, except to note that the gradient of the curve at the

waypoints is analogous to the heading (or at least the direction

of travel) the ship is required to take.

After calculating the route through the waypoints, the system

can get the desired heading c

i

(y) along the route at any given

point, by calculating the direction of the tangential vector at that

point:

c

i

y arctan

y

y

i

y

x

y

i

y

_ _

24

where y

y

i

y @y

i

y=@y and x

y

i

y @x

i

y=@y.

Then the desired yaw rate r

i

is

r

i

c

y

i

y

x

y

i

yy

y

2

i

yx

y

2

i

yy

y

i

y

x

y

i

y

2

y

y

i

y

2

25

5.3. PID heading controller

Having computed the viable route with its way-points and the

desired heading at any given point in real time, the ship has to

be steered to achieve this. Modelling of human pilot behaviour

requires a large amount of observational data and complex

modelling which is beyond the scope of this study. Therefore,

the solution adopted for the current study was to use an auto-

matic pilot based on a PID control system.

The PID-controller can be designed as follows (Fossen, 2002):

d

PID

t K

p

~

cK

d

~ rK

i

_

t

0

~

ctdt 26

where d

PID

(t) is the rudder angle required at time t;

~

c cc

i

is

the heading error; K

p

is the proportional gain constant; K

d

is the

derivative gain constant; ~ r rr

i

is the yaw rate error; K

i

is the

integral gain constant.

Destination

Strange ship

Obstacle

Obstacle

Dynamic route

Dynamic waypoint

Start

Own ship

Dynamic route

Obstacle

Obstacle

Strange ship

Destination

Dynamic waypoint

Own ship

New start

Fig. 12. Dynamic route generation.

Ship state parameter

inputs P(t), P

d

and U

Decision of static danger Decision of dynamic danger

Decision of avoidance directions

Calculation of ships dynamic position

Generation of dynamic route

Calculation of desired heading

Calculation of ships real position and speed

Fig. 13. A block diagram of the algorithm.

Y. Xue et al. / Ocean Engineering 38 (2011) 22902305 2297

The controller gains can be found in terms of the design

parameters o

n

and x, through

K

P

o

2

n

T

K

K

d

2xo

n

T1

K

K

i

o

3

n

T

10K

27

where o

n

is the natural frequency of the system and x is the

relative damping ratio; T and K are the time constant and the gain

constant, respectively. The K

p

term allows the controller to

simulate the restoring action of a manual helmsman to a heading

error. The K

d

term simulates the anticipatory action of a well

trained helmsman and nally the K

i

term simulates the helmsman

compensating for low frequency drift of the vessel heading.

A block diagram of the developed algorithm based on the

method described in the above sections is given in Fig. 13.

6. Case studies

A number of simulation studies were carried out in order to

investigate the performance of the proposed system. All of the

moving ships within the simulation range were assumed to be

Mariner class ships. These vessel types have been studied in detail

in various comparative studies by different authors and detailed

information is available on their manoeuvring characteristics.

Details of this vessel type can be found in Fossen (1994). The

parameters of simulation are given as follows:

m2, a 20, Z 200, n 2, f 2:5, C

g

0:04 Nm,

T 107:3, K 0:185, o

n

0:03 and x 1

Fig. 14. Two ships crossing for the rst scenario (1).

Fig. 15. Two ships crossing for the rst scenario (2).

Table 1

Position and speed of ships crossing each others path.

Start (km) Destination (km) Speed (kn)

Own ship (0,0) (20,20) 15

Strange ship (20,0) (0,20) 15

Y. Xue et al. / Ocean Engineering 38 (2011) 22902305 2298

Fig. 18. Two ships crossing for the third scenario.

Fig. 17. Two ships crossing for the second scenario.

Fig. 16. (a) Own ships yaw rate, yaw angle, speed and rudder angle and (b) strange ships yaw rate, yaw angle, speed and rudder angle.

Y. Xue et al. / Ocean Engineering 38 (2011) 22902305 2299

6.1. The fundamental cases

Encounters between two ships including crossing, head-on

and overtaking were simulated in the rst instance. The same

algorithm is applied to both ships featured in the simulation.

(1) Two ships crossing: The situation where the paths of two ships

are likely to cross is simulated primarily to check the

compliance with COLREGS. The position and the speed of

ships are given in Table 1.

As shown in Figs. 14 and 15, the program decides that there is

a risk of collision and identies the ship on the left (own ship)

as the give-way ship according to provisions in COLREGS.

It then manoeuvres to starboard to avoid collision, and the

stand-on ship on the right (strange ship) maintains its course

and speed achieving a port-to-port safe passing manoeuvre.

The own ship and strange ships yaw rate, yaw angle, speed

and rudder angle are given in Fig. 16.

The simulation software has been developed to calculate the

turning angle automatically for each of the ships according to

their speed, the encounter type and the collision distance

based on available practical operational experience (Li and

Wang, 1983). This feature is demonstrated in the second

scenario whereby the own ships speed is reduced to 13 kn

and the strange ships speed is maintained at 15 kn. The

simulation results are presented in Fig. 17.

In the third scenario the own ships speed is 15 kn and strange

ships speed is 12 kn. The simulation progress is shown in Fig. 18.

These case studies have shown that the developed simulation

program can make proper decisions concerning the risk of a

collision. The program has correctly determined which ship(s)

needs to take action, and also calculated the turning angle

required to avoid a collision.

(2) Two ships head-on: In this case, the performance of the

automatic navigation system when two ships are travelling

head-on towards one another is investigated. The position

and the speed of ships are given in Table 2. The results from

the simulation run are shown in Fig. 19.

(3) One ship overtaking another: The position and the speed of

ships are given in Table 3. Because the own ship is faster than

the strange ship, the own ship is to turn to port to overtake

the strange ship in accordance with the rules. The result is

presented in Fig. 20.

From these fundamental cases, it can be seen that the

algorithm is capable of making appropriate decisions to avoid

a collision. Furthermore, the simulation results also show that

the algorithm is compliant with COLREGS.

6.2. Autonomous ship navigation through a channel

In order to investigate the performance of the system further

an extreme case the Strait of Istanbul was chosen for the

next case study of navigation in a narrow channel. This strait

presents one of the greatest challenges for ship navigation as

it snakes through the heart of Asia Minor (Kose et al., 2003).

The part of this strait between two red lines as shown in

Fig. 21(a) was modelled as presented in Fig. 21(b) for this study.

The ships speed was set at 7.5 kn, the starting point was at

(x

s

,y

s

)(0,0) (km) and the destination point was at (x

d

,y

d

)(8,10)

(km). The inuence range of the obstacle p

o

was set at 0.3 km and

the main obstacle points were placed manually to represent the

coastlines as shown graphically in Fig. 22(a). The obstacle point-

generation utility program then calculated and placed additional

points along the coastline to ensure that the coastlines cannot be

crossed as shown in Fig. 22(b).

Fig. 23 shows the contour plot of the potential eld generated

by the discrete obstacle points and the destination point. High

potential level can be seen at and near the obstacles, and the high

potential eld forms a kind of dykes along the coastlines,

preventing the ship from leaking out of the shipping lane.

Fig. 19. Two ships head-on.

Table 3

Position and speed of ships, one overtaking the other.

Start (km) Destination (km) Speed (kn)

Own ship (11, 2) (11,19) 20

Strange ship (11,4) (11,14) 10

Table 2

Position and speed of ships in head-on situation.

Start (km) Destination (km) Speed (kn)

Own ship (11,0) (11,28) 15

Strange ship (10,28) (10,0) 15

Y. Xue et al. / Ocean Engineering 38 (2011) 22902305 2300

Fig. 20. One ship overtaking another.

Fig. 21. (a) Selected part of the strait and (b) simulation model. (For interpretation of the references to colour in this gure, the reader is referred to the web version of this article.)

Fig. 22. (a) Main obstacle points manually placed and (b) additional obstacle points placed by the utility program.

Y. Xue et al. / Ocean Engineering 38 (2011) 22902305 2301

Figs. 2426 show the progress of the simulation and the key

manoeuvring parameters are shown against time in Fig. 27.

This case demonstrates that the developed algorithm is capable

of automatically navigating a ship though a channel or waterway

which has narrow sections with many sharp turns. It is true that

the path of the ship thus produced contains a few excessive

manoeuvres which a human pilot can judge to be a bad practice.

However, the main purpose of the current study is to investigate

the methods of implementing automatic simulation of ship navi-

gation and no attempt has been made to optimise the route.

6.3. Navigation in a congested area

Ship navigation in a congested area represents one of the

greatest challenges for the experienced mariner. Here, the simu-

lation system is put to the test where it has to deal with a highly

complex encounter situation involving six ships in the presence of

some static obstacles. The position and the speed of each ship are

given in Table 4. Note that the program treats each ship in turn as

the own ship, as discussed earlier, and nds safe routes for all the

ships concerned.

Figs. 2830 show the progress of the simulation. From the very

beginning it is obvious that a complex encounter situation will Fig. 23. Contour plot of the potential eld.

Fig. 24. Progress of simulation (1).

Fig. 25. Progress of simulation (2).

Y. Xue et al. / Ocean Engineering 38 (2011) 22902305 2302

develop in due course. Once the program detects the risk of collision,

it attempts to identify which ship should be given the priority. For the

ship(s) with the highest priority the program computes the actions

required to avoid a collision according to the COLREGS. In this way

the system steers all the ships safely to their destinations.

This case study demonstrates the ability of the program in

dealing with a complex encounter situation. In reality this degree

of complexity is not very likely to arise and it does give a degree

of condence that the program will be able to deal with most of

the realistic navigational situations to be expected.

Fig. 26. Progress of simulation (3).

Fig. 27. Ships yaw rate, yaw angle, speed and rudder angle.

Table 4

Position and speed of ships.

Start (km) Destination (km) Speed (kn)

Ship A (green) (0,0) (45,40) 15

Ship B (red) (40,0) (3,40) 14

Ship C (magenta) (45,30) (3,20) 14

Ship D (blue) (0,30) (45,20) 14

Ship E (yellow) (40,50) (25,0) 15

Ship F (black) (4,50) (40,10) 14

Y. Xue et al. / Ocean Engineering 38 (2011) 22902305 2303

Fig. 28. Progress of simulation in a congested area (1).

Fig. 29. Progress of simulation in a congested area (2).

Fig. 30. Progress of simulation in a congested area (3).

Y. Xue et al. / Ocean Engineering 38 (2011) 22902305 2304

7. Concluding remarks

This paper has presented a method for automatic route nding

and collision avoidance to be used in an automatic navigation

simulation system. So far as can be ascertained through the case

studies, the potential eld method, despite its limitations, appears

to be well-suited for automatic route nding and collision

avoidance algorithm. The collision avoidance algorithm devel-

oped in this study incorporates the key provisions in COLREGS.

There is a potential to develop this algorithm further so that a

practical automatic or advisory navigation system can be con-

structed. Much work is required to incorporate the knowledge

and skills of experienced mariners so that the actions of the

system can resemble those of human pilots more closely.

The simulation program in its current form does have some

deciencies. For example, the weather conditions are not taken into

consideration; it does not have any optimisation or prediction

ability per se; no extreme encounter cases where normal man-

oeuvres may not be able to resolve the situation without resorting

to emergency action, such as change of speed or reversing are not

catered for. Nevertheless, the developed algorithm has been shown

to be effective in complex navigational situations.

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