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Volume 8 Issue 8
Aug.  2021

IEEE/CAA Journal of Automatica Sinica

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Zhe Du, Rudy R. Negenborn and Vasso Reppa, "Cooperative Multi-Agent Control for Autonomous Ship Towing Under Environmental Disturbances," IEEE/CAA J. Autom. Sinica, vol. 8, no. 8, pp. 1365-1379, Aug. 2021. doi: 10.1109/JAS.2021.1004078
Citation: Zhe Du, Rudy R. Negenborn and Vasso Reppa, "Cooperative Multi-Agent Control for Autonomous Ship Towing Under Environmental Disturbances," IEEE/CAA J. Autom. Sinica, vol. 8, no. 8, pp. 1365-1379, Aug. 2021. doi: 10.1109/JAS.2021.1004078

Cooperative Multi-Agent Control for Autonomous Ship Towing Under Environmental Disturbances

doi: 10.1109/JAS.2021.1004078
Funds:  This work was supported by the China Scholarship Council (201806950080), the Researchlab Autonomous Shipping (RAS) of Delft University of Technology, and the INTERREG North Sea Region Grant “AVATAR” funded by the European Regional Development Fund
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  • Among the promising application of autonomous surface vessels (ASVs) is the utilization of multiple autonomous tugs for manipulating a floating object such as an oil platform, a broken ship, or a ship in port areas. Considering the real conditions and operations of maritime practice, this paper proposes a multi-agent control algorithm to manipulate a ship to a desired position with a desired heading and velocity under the environmental disturbances. The control architecture consists of a supervisory controller in the higher layer and tug controllers in the lower layer. The supervisory controller allocates the towing forces and angles between the tugs and the ship by minimizing the error in the position and velocity of the ship. The weight coefficients in the cost function are designed to be adaptive to guarantee that the towing system functions well under environmental disturbances, and to enhance the efficiency of the towing system. The tug controller provides the forces to tow the ship and tracks the reference trajectory that is computed online based on the towing angles calculated by the supervisory controller. Simulation results show that the proposed algorithm can make the two autonomous tugs cooperatively tow a ship to a desired position with a desired heading and velocity under the (even harsh) environmental disturbances.


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    • Formulation of the towing process in a multi-agent, multi-layer control framework;
    • Derivation of the kinematic model of the physically interconnected ship-towing system for coordinating multiple vessels;
    • Design of adaptive weights for regulating the ship velocity to make the manipulation of the ship smooth even under harsh environmental conditions;
    • Extensive simulations performed to show the robustness of the proposed method in scenarios with various environmental disturbances in a realistic framework.


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