What is the ME2ME CoE at IITM?

The ME2ME Centre of Excellence (COE) at the Dept of Ocean Engineering at IIT Madras aims at bridging the gap between controlled lab-scale experiments and actual field work of the maritime industry. Through three broadly classified facets, the COE works to revolutionize the field of autonomy and digitization of maritime operations:

  • Autonomy and AI: Self-sustained, controlled water-based EVs and vessels
  • Collection of large scale real-time coastal and deep-sea data
  • Autonomy and digitization of ports and docks for efficient and error-free movement of goods and people

Despite all the advancements in the industry, more than 80% of maritime accidents happen due to human error. By reducing human intervention, automation drastically reduces that number and makes complex maritime operations both safe and efficient. Further, through numerous sensor driven control algorithms, autonomous systems can chart out a safer and more energy efficient route, thereby cutting costs and making operations more eco-friendly.

Autonomy in various domains, such as defense surveillance, commercial offshore intervention, and coastal surveillance, has proven to be useful. It offers benefits like improved disaster management, control algorithms, and automation. It is particularly attractive for commercial purposes due to its potential for reducing crew members, minimizing human error, and enhancing safety in challenging maritime situations.

Autonomy is already being implemented on a smaller scale, with large-scale maritime surveys conducted via drones and the launch of a remote-controlled electric cargo ship in Norway, which reduced traffic and pollution by displacing 40000 trucks from land. However, despite all advancements in technology, its widespread application faces obstacles, primarily in the form of regulations. Determining liability in unforeseen incidents, deciding who controls the ship, and addressing concerns of foreign control are among the challenges that need to be addressed.

ME2ME’s current focus is on development of control navigation and guidance systems for vessels, while optimizing on efficiency and obstacle avoidance. Through navigation systems that interface with sensors placed around ships, ME2ME develops software that makes necessary path corrections and movements. Through its fleet of three operational vehicles, the first of which was fabricated in-house at the Central Workshop at IITM, ME2ME receives constant field feedback on the performance of its algorithms and controls.

Under its guidance, a student-led competitive team Arithra (Sanskrit for navigation) finished 5th internationally in Nord, a virtual design competition. This year, the team eyes a podium finish in the offline rendition of the same scheduled to be held in Norway.

As of today, India lags behind the likes of South Korea, Norway and UK in development of such systems, mainly due to lack of industrial participation. However, a forecasted interest in startups as well as policy makers might prove to shift the global landscape, making India not only a competitor but a leader in the field of autonomous maritime navigation. With the Kochi Shipyard Ltd. already working with ME2ME, the center aims to attract more environmentally conscious startups and stakeholders. With volume in production, the team hopes to garner the interest of inland water transportation companies through reduced operational costs.

Furthering the robustness of autonomous monitoring systems, the team has proposed a wave energy docking system that utilizes the kinetic energy of ocean waves to charge an electric vessel that fetches real time data that simply cannot be replicated on a lab scale setup. The advantage of its ‘in-situ’ nature would be realized in future research in a wide range of fields. Currently the team aims to complete development of their navigation systems and algorithms within the next one and a half years. By the end of three years, it visions field integration of the same, though that might attract some bureaucratic obstacles.