24 May 2019

The next major demonstration of autonomous sea rescue is being planned here. Forty-five people have gathered at Gränsö Manor to spend three days sharing experiences and inspiration. Researchers and technologists, doctoral students and undergraduates – everyone is working towards the same goal.

A boat at a dock. In the background there is a group of people on the dock.
Intense discussions on the jetty, while the next test is being prepared at WARA PS, the test arena for the Wallenberg AI Autonomous Systems and Software Program. Magnus Johansson
People are gathering at Gränsö Manor in Västervik in preparation for the autumn’s demonstration within WARA PS, the WASP arena for public safety. Those attending are the same as those who took part in last autumn’s exercise testing autonomous sea rescue in practice. We find representatives for the companies Ericsson, Axis Communications, and several of Saab’s subsidiaries, together with researchers from KTH (Royal Institute of Technology), Linköping University and Lund University. There are also a couple of newcomers.

“We were eager to get involved in WASP, and we’ll participate in the large exercise that WARA PS will hold in September”, says Tobias Fridén, LiU student and entrepreneur in his own company, Airpelago.

In collaboration with Fredrik Falkman from the Swedish Sea Rescue Society, he has developed a delta-winged drone. It’s intelligent, quick and light. The current version can float, and the next one will be watertight.

Saving lives

“Imagine a hundred drones deployed along the Swedish coast, at least one at each sea rescue station. When an alarm is received, a drone is immediately scrambled, to gain an overview the situation. We receive images from the accident site and information about the weather, which means that the right resources can be sent out to the person in distress”, explains Tobias Fridén, in his final year of a master’s degree in technical physics. He plans to spend the autumn of 2019 working on his degree project in his own company, Airpelago.

“We have been awarded a grant from Vinnova and have been working on the technology for a year, together with Ericsson”, he says.

WASP Gränsö 20190516Tobias Fridén and Fredrik Flyrin Photo credit Magnus JohanssonThe need to have the drone fly out of sight of the operator is a problem, since such flying is not permitted. Airpelago and the Swedish Sea Rescue Society are drawing up an application to the Swedish Transport Agency to be allowed to carry out tests in an area around the two sea rescue stations, Hovås and Rörö, in the Gothenburg archipelago.

“We have a solid case here that can save lives, and the response so far has been positive. The drones will be flying over water: the risks are very small while the benefits are large. We are reasonably confident that we will be granted permission”, says Fredrik Flyrin.

Ericsson has been involved in WASP since the start. One of the aspects of the programme for them is optimisation of the wireless network at slightly greater heights. They are also hoping to find new models for business, organisation and products for a completely new market.

Common scenario

Ivan Stenius, head of research at SMaRC, an arena for underwater vehicles coordinated by the Royal Institute of Technology, is also at Gränsö.

Together with his colleagues, he is here to watch, learn and discuss whether it is possible to create a common rescue scenario for the exercise this autumn. This scenario would contain autonomous collaborating rescue vessels in the water, unmanned underwater vessels and flying drones, with humans also being part of the picture.

WASP Gränsö 20190516Ivan Stenius and his colleagues from SMaRC in conversation with Lars Rundqwist and Jesper Tordenlid Photo credit Magnus Johansson“Our projects have a lot in common: we combine research and development and we have several similar research questions. We also want to get scientists out into messy real-life situations, away from the idealised computer models we normally work with”, he says.

“I hope that we can come up with a common scenario for the autumn.”

A couple of quadrocopters are buzzing around overhead, autonomously following two Pirayas out in the bay. They take photographs and maintain contact with the boats. One of the quadcopters also has the task of dropping a first-aid kit down to a person in trouble in the water. It only takes the drone about a minute to find the target and drop its payload less than a metre from the distressed person, today represented by a buoy.

Applied AI

“This is applied AI. We want to translate all of the fancy algorithms to simple tools that work in emergencies. There are boats here for our quadcopters to work with, and open water,” says Mariusz Wzorek, research engineer in the Division for WASP Gränsö 20190516The quadcopter seeking for a person needing rescue Photo credit Magnus JohanssonArtificial Intelligence and Integrated Computer Systems at LiU, who also participated in the exercise last autumn, together with colleague Piotr Rudol.

On the jetty we find Lars Rundqwist, Saab Aeronautics, enjoying the sunshine. He led the initial study in preparation for WARA PS, and designed the sea rescue situation that the group is following.

“We have built the complete system using standard products: simulation systems and case-management systems from Saab, communication using cloud-based systems from Ericsson and Microsoft, delegation organisation from LiU, camera technology and communication from Axis, etc. Here, it’s a case of getting the software systems to work together. We are also using the mobile phone network, so we’re going to have to get Telia involved in the project at some stage”, he says.

True-to-life environment

Lars Rundqwist is the one who is responsible for the overall picture: he sees how everything fits together. So far, so good.
“But several challenges remain, when the doctoral students are to connect their research to the overall system. They shouldn't have to spend 6 months coding in C++ to make it work. We have to make it easier for them, and this is where work remains to be done.”

He is satisfied that so many participated in the three days at Gränsö Manor.
WASP Gränsö 20190516Lars Rundqwist Photo credit Magnus Johansson
“Remember – we support research by offering actual equipment and a true-to-life environment outside of the ideal world depicted in models. Reality is always slightly more complex than we realise. We’re familiar with making approximations, but here we can find out things that we didn’t realise that we had to include in the model. We also create knowledge in this way”, says Lars Rundqwist.

Jesper Tordenlid of Saab Combitech is responsible for WARA PS in its entirety. He is also satisfied with what he has seen – groups of engineers and researchers in deep discussions, seeking and exploring different solutions.

“Huge amounts of engineering will be required to make this work. We get a lot of help from students’ degree projects, several of them are here, as are also eight WASP doctoral students from two different entry groups. At most, we were 45 people – meeting, collecting information, building on previous collaboration, and inspiring each other.

“I’m really looking forward to the exercise in September.”

Translated by George Farrants


Photo of Jesper Tordenlid

Jesper Tordenlid


Manager WASP Research Arena for public safety, WARA PS



The Swedish Maritime Robotics Centre, financed by the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research, SSF.
Participants come from the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm University and the University of Gothenburg, and the Swedish Defence Materiel Administration (FMV), the Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI), Saab Kockums and Saab Dynamics.

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