Login| Sign Up| Help| Contact|

Patent Searching and Data


Title:
VESSEL MOORING METHOD AND RELATED MEANS
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2009/041833
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
The present invention relates to a lock that includes at least one closable opening that facilitates the flooding and/or draining of the lock. The flow characteristics through the opening can be controlled to reduce the establishing of currents in said lock that adversely affect the positioning of a vessel in said lock. Forces between (i) a vessel in the lock that is moored to the quay of the lock and (ii) the quay of said lock can be measured to control the flow characteristics.

Inventors:
MONTGOMERY, Peter James (Shipping Services Building, 3 Norwich Quay, Lyttleton 8081, NZ)
Application Number:
NZ2008/000250
Publication Date:
April 02, 2009
Filing Date:
September 25, 2008
Export Citation:
Click for automatic bibliography generation   Help
Assignee:
CAVOTEC MSL HOLDINGS LIMITED (Unit 9, Level 1 Amuri Park,404 Barbadoes Street, Christchurch 8141, NZ)
MONTGOMERY, Peter James (Shipping Services Building, 3 Norwich Quay, Lyttleton 8081, NZ)
International Classes:
E02C1/06; E02C1/10
Domestic Patent References:
WO2007104917A1
Foreign References:
US20020119010A1
GB245013A
US20060081166A1
GB2423508A
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
ADAMS, Matthew, D. et al. (A J Park, 6th Floor Huddart Parker BuildingPO Box 949, Wellington 6015, NZ)
Download PDF:
Claims:

Claims:

1. A system to control the moored condition of a vessel positioned and moored within a lock by at least one mooring device, the lock including at least one variable flow passage to facilitate lock flooding and/or draining to vary the water level in the lock, said system comprising: at least one sensor that can sense one or more of:

(a) the position of the vessel within the lock, and

(b) the force applied by the vessel to at least one of said mooring device a controller to control the flow characteristics of water through said at least one variable flow passage, said controller utilizing information received at least in part from the at least one sensor in order to control the flow of water through the passage.

2. A system as claimed in claim 1 wherein said information is embodied in a signal received from said at least one sensor.

3. A system as claimed in claim 1 or 2 wherein the signal is one that is at least in part dependent on one or both of :

(a) the position of the vessel within the lock, and

(b) the force applied by the vessel to said at least one mooring device as sensed by the at least one sensor.

4. A system as claimed in any one of claims 1 to 3 wherein said information is selected from at least one of:

(a) the position of the vessel within the lock, and

(b) the force applied by the vessel to said at least one mooring device, and

(c) the level of water in the lock, and

(d) the density of water in the lock, and (e) the vessel's displacement, and

(f) the underwater shape of the vessel, and

(g) the position, displacement and/or underwater shape of any other vessels in the lock..

5. A system as claimed in anyone of claims 1 to 4 wherein said controller can control the flow rate of water through the passage.

6. A system as claimed in anyone of claims 1 to 5 wherein said flow characteristics are controlled in a manner to reduce the prospect of adverse forces being established

between said and mooring device due to water currents in said lock.

7. A system as claimed in claim 6 when dependent on claim 3 wherein said flow characteristics are controlled based on said information embodied in said signal.

8. A system as claimed in claim 6 or 7 wherein said water currents in said lock are those that are established in part by water passing through said passage.

9. A system as claimed in claim anyone of claims 1 to 8 wherein said system also includes data storage to store at least some of said information sensed by said at least one sensor, wherein at least some of said information utilised by said controller to control the flow characteristics of water through said at least one variable flow passage is said stored information.

10. A system as claimed in claim 9 wherein said data storage can also receive and store further information that includes any one of more of the following:

(a) the level of water in the lock, and

(b) the density of water in the lock, and (c) the vessel's displacement, and

(d) the underwater shape of the vessel, and

(e) the position, displacement and/or underwater shape of any other vessels in the lock.

11. A system as claimed in claim 9 or 10 wherein said controller utilises said stored information based on current information relating to a currently moored vessel, the current information being received from the at least one sensor and/or another source.

12. A system as claimed in any one of claims 9 to 11 wherein said stored information is received in respect of a previously moored vessel and forms a look up table for future control of the flood and/or drain characteristics based on the current information relating to the currently moored vessel.

13. A system as claimed in any preceding claim wherein the operation of the system is optimized by the controller to provide a desirable level of safety for moored vessel(s) in the lock and desirable cycle time.

14. A system as claimed in any preceding claim wherein said moored condition is the position and/or list of the vessel in the lock.

15. - A system as claimed in any preceding claim wherein said mooring device is a rope.

16. A system as claimed in any one of claims 1 to 15 wherein said mooring device is a mooring robot that includes a suction coupler for releasably fastening to said vessel.

17. A system as claimed in claim 16 wherein said mooring robot includes:

(a) a fixed structure fastened to the quay of said lock, (b) a structure movable relative the fixed structure and by which the suction coupler is supported..

18. A system to control the moored condition of a vessel positioned and moored within a lock by at least one mooring device, the lock including at least one variable flow passage to facilitate lock flooding and/or draining to vary the water level in the lock, said system comprising a controller to control the flow characteristics of water through said at least one variable flow passage, said controller utili2ing stored information correlating lock flow characteristics with one or more parameters relating to the condition of a moored vessel.

19. A system to control the moored condition of a vessel positioned and moored within a lock by at least one mooring device, the lock including at least one variable flow passage to facilitate lock flooding and/or draining to vary the water level in the lock, said system comprising: at least one sensor that can sense one or more of: (a) the position of the vessel within the lock, and (b) the degree of list of the vessel from a datum list reference a controller to control the flow characteristics of water through said at least one variable flow passage, said controller utilizing information received at least in part from the at least one sensor in order to control the flow of water through the passage.

20. A system as claimed claims 19 wherein said flow characteristics are controlled in a manner to reduce the prospect of listing of the of the vessel beyond a pre selected degree from said datum.

21. A method of controlling the moored condition of a vessel positioned and moored within a lock by at least one mooring device, the lock including at least one variable flow passage to facilitate lock flooding and/or " draining to vary the water level in the lock, said comprising: sensing one or more of:

(a) the position of the vessel within the lock, and

(b) the force applied' by the ~ vessel to at least one of said mooring device utilizing information based at least in part on that which is sensed to control the flow of water through the passage.

22. A lock that includes at least one closable opening that facilitates the flooding and/or draining of the lock wherein the water flow rate through said opening can be controlled to reduce the establishing of currents in said lock that adversely affect the positioning of a vessel in said lock in response to a force measured between (i) a vessel in the lock that is moored to the quay of the lock and (ii) the quay of said lock.

23. A lock that includes at least one closable opening that facilitates the flooding and draining of the lock wherein the water flow rate through said opening can be reduced when a force measured between (i) a vessel in the lock that is moored to the quay of the lock and (ii) the quay of said lock, exceeds a predetermined threshold.

24. A method of mooring and positioning a vessel in a lock, said lock including at least one variable flow opening for water inlet and/or outlet to allow variation of the water level in the lock, said method facilitated by utilizing a mooring system that includes at least one mooring robot positioned relative the lock's quay for releasably fastening a vessel floating adjacent said quay in a body of water in said lock, the mooring robot including an attractive force attachment element displaceably engaged to a base structure of said mooring robot said base structure affixed to said quay, said attractive force attachment element being releasably engagable with a vessel surface for making fast the vessel with said quay, the mooring robot providing active translational movement of the attractive force attachment element relative to the base structure to allow thereby the movement of a vessel in a direction selected from any one or both of

(i) an athwartship direction, and (ii) a longitudinal direction, said method, after the associating of the vessel with the mooring system by allowing the vessel surface to be engaged by the attractive force attachment element and the establishing of an attraction between said vessel and said mooring robot, comprises;

(a) measuring the attractive force between the surface and the attractive force attachment element, for the purposes of determining the holding capacity in at least one of

(i) parallel to the attractive force direction,

(ϋ) normal to the attractive force direction and horizontally, and (in) normal to the attractive force direction and vertically,

(b) measuring the force between the attractive force attachment element and the base structure of the mooring robot at least in a direction selected from any one or more of

(i) parallel to the attractive force direction,

(ii) normal to the attractive force direction and horizontally and

(iii) normal to the attractive force direction and vertically,

(c) monitoring the relationship between the attractive force and the force(s) measured in (b), to change the flow of water through said at least one opening when any one or more of the forces measured in (b), in a direction to tend toward allowing relative movement between the attractive force attachment and the said vessel, approaches an attractive force dependent holding capacity in the direction to tend towards allowing relative movement of the attractive force attachment element with said vessel, to thereby reduce the relative force between the vessel and the attractive attachment element.

25. A method as claimed in claim 24 wherein the attractive force attachment element comprises a variable attractive force attachment element and the method further includes, when any one or more of the forces measured in (b) reach a predefined limit tending toward allowing relative movement between the variable force attractive element and the said vessel in a direction parallel to such force(s) measured, the controlling to increase the attractive force between the vessel surface and the variable attractive force attachment element in response to the force(s) measured in (b) and a changing in the flow rate of water through at least one said opening.

26. A method as claimed in claim 24 or 25 wherein the attractive force attachment element comprises a variable attractive force attachment element and the method further includes, when any one or more of the forces measured in (b) reach a predefined limit tending toward allowing relative movement between the variable force attractive element and the said vessel in a direction parallel to such force(s) measured, increasing the attractive force between the vessel surface and the variable attractive force attachment element proportional to the force(s) measured in (b) and/or changing the flow rate of water through at least one said opening to result in a flow of water in said lock that results in a change in force on the vessel by said water in a direction tending toward reducing the

propensity of relative movement 'between the variable force attractive element and the said vessel.

27. A method as claimed in any one of claims 24 to 26 wherein the force(s) measured in (b) between the attractive force attachment element and the base structure is continuously monitored and determined from a signal responsive to a transducer, wherein said signal responsive to said transducer is visually displayed at a control tower and/or to an operator of said lock and/or onboard the vessel, to indicate the force(s) between vessel and said fixed structure of said mooring robot.

28. A method as claimed in anyone of claims 24 to 27 wherein said system includes a plurality of spaced apart mooring robots, each presenting an attractive force attachment element to engage to a surface of said vessel and wherein the force(s) as measured in (b) between the attractive force attachment element and the base structure of each mooring robot is monitored and feedback to control the flow rate of water through any one or more of openings is provided to reduce the effect of undesirable loading on the vessel as a consequence of water flow in the lock.

29. A method as claimed in anyone of claims 2 to 28 wherein said system includes a plurality of spaced apart mooring robots, each presenting an attractive force attachment element to engage to a surface of said vessel, wherein said method further includes, when any one or more of the forces measured in (b) of one of said mooring robots tends toward allowing relative movement between the attractive force attachment element and the said vessel in a direction parallel to such force(s) measured by such approaching a holding capacity of the attractive force attachment element in any such direction, at least, one of the other mooring robots is controlled for movement of its attractive force attachment element relative to said fixed base in a direction to vary the force between its attractive force attachment element and its base structure in a direction opposite to such said direction to thereby reduce the force in such said direction between the attractive force attachment element and its said base structure of said one mooring robot.

30. A method as claimed in anyone of claims 24 to 29 wherein the attractive force between said attractive force attachment element and the vessel surface is measured and a signal corresponding to the measured attractive force is transmitted for the purpose of comparison with the measured force(s) of (b), wherein an alarm is triggered when any one or more of the forces measured in (b) reaches a predefined percentage of force required

'-to result in relative movement between said attractive force attachment- element and said vessel, which holding force is dependent on attractive force measured.

31. A method as claimed in anyone of claims 24 to 30 wherein the attractive force attachment element is to engage with a planar surface of said vessel with its attractive force acting normal only to said planar surface, wherein the attracuVe force between each attractive force attachment member and the planar surface is measured and a signal corresponding to the measured attractive force is transmitted for the purpose of comparison with the force measured in (b) (ii) wherein an alarm is triggered when such force in a direction to tend toward resulting in a relative movement of said attractive force attachment member and said vessel in the direction parallel to the force measured in (b) (ϋ), approaches the holding capacity of said attractive force attachment member with said vessel as determined from the measured attractive force.

32. A vessel mooring system for a lock that includes at least one variable flow opening for water inlet and/or outlet to allow variation of the water level in the lock said system comprising: at least one mooring robot secured to a quay of said lock, said mooring robot including a base structure fixed to said quay, an attractive force attachment element displaceably engaged to a base structure, said attractive force attachment element to be releasably engaged with a substantially vertically extending port or starboard side disposed vessel surface for making fast the vessel to said quay, said attractive force attachment element capable of exerting an attractive force normal to said vessel surface at which it is to be attached, a means to establish the attractive force between said vessel and said attractive force attachment element means to actuate movement of the attractive force attachment element relative to the base structure in at least a direction selected from any one or both of an athwartship direction and longitudinal direction means to measure the force between said attractive force attachment element and the base structure of said mooring robot in at least any one or more of:

(i) a direction parallel to the said normal to provide a "normal force reading"

(ϋ) a direction horizontal and perpendicular to said normal to provide a "horizontal shear force reading", and (iii) a direction vertical and perpendicular to the normal to provide a "vertical shear force reading" means to control the flow rate of water through said at least one of opening responsive to at least one of the "readings".

33. A vessel mooring system as claimed in claim in claim 32 wherein the system controls the flow rate of the water in a manner to reduce any adverse loading by the vessel on the mooring robot when attached thereto as a consequence of water flow in said lock.

34. A vessel mooring system as claimed in claim 32 or 33 wherein the means to control reduces the flow rate when at least one of the readings exceeds a predetermined threshold.

35. A vessel mooring system as claimed in anyone of claims 32 to 34 wherein said attractive force attachment element comprises a vacuum pad or cup and said means to establish the attractive force between said vessel and said attractive force attachment element comprises a vacuum system in fluid communication with said suction coupler and includes a vacuum generator.

36. A vessel mooring system as claimed in anyone of claims 32 to 35 wherein at least two mooring robots are provided, one to be engaged more towards the bow of the vessel and one to be engaged more towards the stern of the vessel, wherein a secondary means to control is provided to control the attractive force of each attractive force attachment element and in a manner wherein when the attractive forces applied to the vessel surface by at least one of said mooring robot of each set reaches a first threshold the means to control operates in a manner to normalise the attractive force of each robot.

37. A vessel mooring system for a lock that includes at least one variable flow opening for water inlet and/or outlet to allow variation of the water level in the lock said system comprising: at least one mooring robot secured to a quay of said lock, said mooring robot including

a base structure fixed to said quay, a vacuum pad engaged to a base structure, said vacuum pad to be releasably engaged with a substantially vertically extending port or starboard side disposed vessel surface for making fast the vessel to said quay, said vacuum pad capable of exerting an attractive force normal to said vessel surface at which it is to be attached, a vacuum system to establish an attractive force between said vessel and said vacuum pad, actuator to move the vacuum pad relative to the base structure in at least a direction selected from any one or both of an athwartship direction and longitudinal direction sensor to measure the force between said vacuum pad and the base structure of said mooring robot in at least any one or more of:

(i) a direction parallel to the said normal to provide a "normal force reading"

(ii) a direction horizontal and perpendicular to said normal to provide a "horizontal shear force reading", and

(iii) a direction vertical and perpendicular to the normal to provide a "vertical shear force reading" controller to control the flow rate of water through said at least one of opening responsive to at least one of the "readings".

38. A vessel mooring system for positioning of a vessel within a lock that includes a plurality of variable flow openings for water inlet and/or outlet to allow variation of the water level in the lock said system comprising: at least one mooring robot for releasably fastening to said vessel said mooring robot including

(a) a fixed structure fastened to the quay of said lock,

(b) an attractive force attachment element for releasable engagement with a surface of said vessel, means to generate a force signal representative of the force between the fixed structure and said attractive force attachment element in an athwartship direction and means to generate a force signal representative of the force between the fixed

structure and said attractive force attachment element in a fore/aft direction, means to generate a force signal representative of the force between said attractive force attachment element and said vessel, a controller to control the flow rate of water through at least one valve, said controller responsive to said force signal in order to control the valve in a manner to reduce the prospect of adverse forces being established between said vessel and said attractive force attachment element due to water flow in said lock.

39. A lock that includes closable openings through which water can enter into and/or flow out of the lock wherein the water flow rate through said openings can be controlled to reduce the establishing of currents in said lock that adversely affect the positioning of a vessel in said lock in response to the forces measured between the vessel and the means by which the vessel is moored to a quay of said lock.

40. A method of operating a lock that includes closable openings through which water can enter into and/or flow out of the lock said method including controlling the water flow rate through said openings to reduce the establishing of currents in said lock that adversely affect the positioning of a vessel in said lock in response to the forces measured between the vessel and the means by which the vessel is moored to a quay of said lock.

41. A method of mooring a vessel within a lock by utilizing a mooring system that comprises at least one mooring robot for releasably fastening to said vessel said mooring robot including

(i) a fixed structure fastened to the quay of said lock, (ii) an attractive force attachment element for releasable engagement with a surface of said vessel, means to generate a force signal representative of at least one of a. the force between the fixed structure and said attractive force attachment element in an athwartship direction, and b. the force between the fixed structure and said attractive force attachment element in a fore/aft direction, c. the force between said attractive force attachment element and said vessel, said method comprising;

(i) comparing the signal to a database of loading informationto determine if loading beyond a predetermined threshold on the vessel by water currents in the lock may be about to be encountered, and

(ii) if the comparison indicates that a force beyond a predetermined threshold is about to be encountered, taking measure(s) to reduce the force.

42. A method as claimed in claim 41 wherein the measure(s) is to reduce the rate of flooding or draining of the lock as the case may be.

43. A method as claimed in claim 41 or 42 wherein the database of loading information has been established by collection force signal(s) from previous visits of the vessel to the lock.

44. A lock within which a vessel is moored by at least one mooring device, the lock including at least one variable flow passage to facilitate lock flooding and/or draining to vary the water level in the lock, the condition of at least one of (i) position of the vessel within the lock, and (ii) the force applied by the vessel to said at least one mooring device being monitored so that a controller can control the flow characteristics of water through said at least one variable flow passage when the monitored condition goes beyond a predetermined threshold in order for the monitored condition to not be beyond the predetermined threshold.

45. A vessel moored in a lock and held by at least one mooring the device, the lock including a system as claimed in any one of claims 1, 18, 19, 32 37 or 38.

46. A vessel moored in a lock as claimed in claim 22, 23, 39 or 44.

Description:

VESSEL MOORING METHOD AND RELATED MEANS

FIELD OF INVENTION

The present invention relates to a vessel mooring method and related means. The invention may also relate improvements in or relating to a lock within which a vessel may be moored and the control of the lock to facilitate the vessel remaining in a desired moored condition(s). In particular although not solely the invention relates to the a method of mooring a vessel in a lock that may include the use of mooring robots having an attractive attachment element for engagement with a surface for making fast the vessel that is within a lock to control vessel position influencing factors that may adversely affect the moored condition of the vessel.

BACKGROUND

The mooring of a vessel or vessel at a terminal such as a dock utilising mooring robots is known. Automated systems such as those described in WO 0162585 offer a number of advantages over conventional methods of mooring employing mooring lines.

When a vessel is approaching the terminal, mooring robots are able to secure a vessel They may also offer large forces to counter any significant dynamic vessel forces in order to reduce movement of the vessel and keep in under precise control.

However, a problem which may be countered in locks, is the effect of water currents which tend to apply forces to a vessel in a direction that may encourage the vessel out of contact with the mooring robots. Likewise a vessel moored in a lock by the use of ropes may also be subjected to large-forces, such a surge forces that can result in the ropes breaking and the vessel coming loose.

Locks include inlet and outlet openings through which water can flow to change the level of water in the lock. Water currents through such openings can establish dynamic water conditions in the lock that may adversely affect mooring of the vessel. This introduces important safety consideration. In considering potentially adverse environmental aspects, it is desirable to provide a high level of safety while also avoiding over-design and excessive redundancy. For example, the rate of lock flooding and/or draining may be controlled to avoid undesired water surge in the lock.. But the chosen

rate of flooding and/or draining may be much less than is optimal. It may be that the rate can be significantly increased yet still offer safe vessel mooring, whether by ropes or by a vacuum mooring robot.

Failure in the mooring of a vessel with a vacuum cup style mooring robot occurs when the forces applied to a vessel in a direction tending to release the vessel from the vacuum cups exceed the suction force of the vacuum cups on the vessel.

It is therefore an object of the present invention to provide an improved vessel mooring method and/or a lock with improved performance compared to the existing, and/or to at least provide the public with a useful choice.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

Accordingly in a first aspect the present invention consists in a system to control the moored condition of a vessel positioned and moored within a lock by at least one mooring device, the lock including at least one variable flow passage to facilitate lock flooding and/or draining to vary the water level in the lock, said system comprising: at least one sensor that can sense one or more of:

(a) the position of the vessel within the lock, and

(b) the force applied by the vessel to at least one of said mooring device a controller to control the flow characteristics of water through said at least one variable flow passage, said controller utilizing information received at least in part from the at least one sensor in order to control the flow of water through the passage.

Preferably the position sensed is a plan view position of the vessel in the lock.

Preferably the force applied, is sensed or resolved in a horizontal direction.

Preferably said information is embodied in a signal received from said at least one sensor.

Preferably the signal is one that is at least in part dependent on one or both of:

(a) the position of the vessel within the lock, and

(b) the force applied by the vessel to said at least one mooring device as sensed by the at least one sensor. Preferably said information selected from at least one of:

(a) the position of the vessel within the lock, and

(b) the force applied by the vessel to said at least one mooring device, and

(c) the level of water in the lock, and

(d) the density of water in the lock, and

(e) the vessel's displacement, and

(f) the underwater shape of the vessel, and (g) the position, displacement and/or underwater shape of any other vessels in the lock..

Preferably said controller can control the flow rate of water through the passage. Preferably the controller includes a valve to control the flow rate of water. Preferably the controller includes a member that has a surface or surfaces of incidence to flow of water leaving or entering said lock via said passage that can be reconfigured or moved to change the flow shape of water entering or leaving the lock.

Preferably said flow characteristics are controlled in a manner to reduce the prospect of adverse force(s) being established between said vessel and mooring device due to water currents in said lock. Preferably an adverse load is one that exceeds a predetermined threshold.

Preferably the predetermined threshold is dependent on the holding capacity of the mooring device.

Preferably said flow characteristics are controlled based on said information embodied in said signal. Preferably said water currents in said lock are those that are established in part by water passing through said passage.

Preferably said system also includes data storage to store at least some of said information sensed by said at least one sensor, wherein at least some of said information utilised by said controller to control the flow characteristics of water through said at least one variable flow passage is said stored information.

Preferably said data storage can also receive and store further information that includes any one of more of the following:

(a) the level of water in the lock, and

(b) the density of water in the lock, and (c) the vessel's displacement, and

(d) the underwater shape of the vessel, and

(e) the position, displacement and/or underwater shape of any other vessels

in the lock.

Preferably said controller utilises said stored information based on current information relating to a currently moored vessel, the current information being received from the at least one sensor and/or another source. Preferably said stored information is received in respect of a previously moored vessel and forms a look up table for future control of the flood and/or drain characteristics based on the current information relating to the currendy moored vessel. Preferably the operation of the system is optimized by the controller to provide a desirable level of safety for moored vessel(s) in the lock and desirable cycle time. Preferably said moored condition is the position and/or list of the vessel in the lock.

Preferably said mooring device is a rope.

Preferably said mooring device is a mooring robot that includes a suction coupler for releasably fastening to said vessel. Preferably said mooring robot includes:

(a) a fixed structure fastened to the quay of said lock,

(b) a structure movable relative the fixed structure and by which the suction coupler is supported..

In a second aspect the present invention consists in a system to control the moored condition of a vessel positioned and moored within a lock by at least one mooring device, the lock including at least one variable flow passage to facilitate lock flooding and/or draining to vary the water level in the lock, said system comprising a controller to control the flow characteristics of water through said at least one variable flow passage, said controller utilizing stored information correlating lock flow characteristics with one or more parameters relating to the condition of a moored vessel. , In a further aspect the present invention consists in a system to control the moored condition of a vessel positioned and moored within a lock by at least one mooring device, the lock including at least one variable flow passage to facilitate lock flooding and/or draining to vary the water level in the lock, said system comprising: at least one sensor that can sense one or more of:

(a) the position of the vessel within the lock, and

(b) the degree of list of the vessel from a datum list reference,

a controller to control the flow characteristics of water through said at least one variable flow passage, said controller utilizing information received at least in part from the at least one sensor in order to control the flow of water through the passage.

Preferably said flow characteristics are controlled in a manner to reduce the prospect of listing of the vessel beyond a pre selected degree from said datum.

In still a further aspect the present invention consists in a method of controlling the moored condition of a vessel positioned and moored within a lock by at least one mooring device, the lock including at least one variable flow passage to facilitate lock flooding and/or draining to vary the water level in the lock, said comprising: sensing one or more of:

(a) the position of the vessel within the lock, and

(b) the force applied by the vessel to at least one of said mooring device - utilizing information based at least in part on that which is sensed to control the flow of water through the passage. In yet a further aspect the present invention consists in a lock that includes at least one closable opening that facilitates the flooding and/or draining of the lock wherein the water flow rate through said opening can be controlled to reduce the establishing of currents in said lock that adversely affect the positioning of a vessel in said lock in response to a force measured between (i) a vessel in the lock that is moored to the quay of the lock and (ii) the quay of said lock..

Yet further the present invention consists in a lock that includes at least one closable opening that facilitates the flooding and draining of the lock wherein the water flow rate through said opening can be reduced when a force measured between (i) a vessel in the lock that is moored to the quay of the lock and (ii) the quay of said lock, exceeds a predetermined threshold.

In a further aspect the present invention consists in a method of mooring and positioning a vessel in a lock, said lock including at least one variable flow opening for water inlet and/or outlet to allow variation of the water level in the lock, said method facilitated by utilizing a mooring system that includes at least one mooring robot positioned relative the lock's quay for releasably fastening a vessel floating adjacent said quay in a body of water in said lock, the mooring robot including an attractive force attachment element displaceably engaged to a base structure of said mooring robot said

base structure affixed to said quay, said attractive force attachment "element being releasably engagable with a vessel surface for making fast the vessel with said quay, the mooring robot providing active translational movement of the attractive force attachment element relative to the base structure to allow thereby the movement of a vessel in a direction selected from any one or both of

(i) an athwartship direction, and (ii) a longitudinal direction, said method, after the associating of the vessel with the mooring system by allowing the vessel surface to be engaged by the attractive force attachment element and the establishing of an attraction between said vessel and said mooring robot, comprises;

(a) measuring the attractive force between the surface and the attractive force attachment element, for the purposes of determining the holding capacity in at least one of

(i) parallel to the attractive force direction, (ii) normal to the attractive force direction and horizontally, and

(iii) normal to the attractive force direction and vertically,

(b) measuring the force between the attractive force attachment element and the base structure of the mooring robot at least in a direction selected from any one or more of (i) parallel to the attractive force direction,

(ii) normal to the attractive force direction and horizontally and (in) normal to the attractive force direction and vertically,

(c) monitoring the relationship between the attractive force and the force(s) measured in (b), to change the flow of water through said at least one opening when any one or more of the forces measured in (b), in a direction to tend toward allowing relative movement between the attractive force attachment and the said vessel, approaches an attractive force dependent holding capacity in the direction to tend towards allowing relative movement of the attractive force attachment element with said vessel, to thereby reduce the relative force between the vessel and the attractive attachment element. Preferably the attractive force attachment element comprises a variable attractive force attachment element and the method further includes, when any one or more of the forces measured in (b) reach a predefined limit tending toward allowing relative

movement between the variable force attractive element and the said vessel in a direction parallel to such force(s) measured, the controlling to increase the attractive force between the vessel surface and the variable attractive force attachment element in response to the force(s) measured in (b) and a changing in the flow rate of water through at least one said opening.

Preferably the attractive force attachment element comprises a variable attractive force attachment element and the method further includes, when any one or more of the forces measured in (b) reach a predefined limit tending toward allowing relative movement between the variable force attractive element and the said vessel in a direction parallel to such force(s) measured, increasing the attractive force between the vessel surface and the variable attractive force attachment element proportional to the force(s) measured in (b) and/or changing the flow rate of water through at least one said opening to result in a flow of water in said lock that results in a change in force on the vessel by said water in a direction tending toward reducing the propensity of relative movement between the variable force attractive element and the said vessel.

Preferably the force(s) measured in (b) between the attractive force attachment element and the base structure is continuously monitored and determined from a signal responsive to a transducer, wherein said signal responsive to said transducer is visually displayed at a control tower and/or to an operator of said lock and/or onboard the vessel, to indicate the force(s) between vessel and said fixed structure of said mooring robot.

Preferably said system includes a plurality of spaced apart mooring robots, each presenting an attractive force attachment element to engage to a surface of said vessel and wherein the force(s) as measured in (b) between the attractive force attachment element and the base structure of each mooring robot is monitored and feedback to control the flow rate of water through any one or more of openings is provided to reduce the effect of undesirable loading on the vessel as a consequence of water flow in the lock.

Preferably said system includes a plurality of spaced apart mooring robots, each presenting an attractive force attachment element to engage to a surface of said vessel, wherein said method further includes, when any one or more of the forces measured in (b) of one of said mooring robots tends toward allowing relative movement between the attractive force attachment element and the said vessel in a direction parallel to such

- force(s) measured by such approaching a holding capacity of the attractive force attachment element in any such direction, at least, one of the other mooring robots is controlled for movement of its attractive force attachment element relative to said fixed base in a direction to vary the force between its attractive force attachment element and its base structure in a direction opposite to such said direction to thereby reduce the force in such said direction between the attractive force attachment element and its said base structure of said one mooring robot.

Preferably the attractive force between said attractive force attachment element and the vessel surface is measured and a signal corresponding to the measured attractive force is transmitted for the purpose of comparison with the measured force(s) of (b), wherein an alarm is triggered when any one or more of the forces measured in (b) reaches a predefined percentage of force required to result in relative movement between said attractive force attachment element and said vessel, which holding force is dependent on attractive force measured. Preferably the attractive force attachment element is to engage with a planar surface of said vessel with its attractive force acting normal only to said planar surface, wherein the attractive force between each attractive force attachment member and the planar surface is measured and a signal corresponding to the measured attractive force is transmitted for the purpose of comparison with the force measured in (b) (ii) wherein an alarm is triggered when such force in a direction to tend toward resulting in a relative movement of said attractive force attachment member and said vessel in the direction parallel to the force measured in (b) (ii), approaches the holding capacity of said attractive force attachment member with said vessel as determined from the measured attractive force. In a further aspect the present invention consists in a vessel mooring system for a lock that includes at least one variable flow opening for water inlet and/or outlet to allow variation of the water level in the lock said system comprising: at least one mooring robot secured to a quay of said lock, said mooring robot including a base structure fixed to said quay, an attractive force attachment element displaceably engaged to a base structure, said attractive force attachment element to be releasably engaged with a

substanrially vertically extending port or starboard side disposed vessel surface for making fast the vessel to said quay, said attractive force attachment element capable of exerting an attractive force normal to said vessel surface at which it is to be attached, a means to establish the attractive force between said vessel and said attractive force attachment element means to actuate movement of the attractive force attachment element relative to the base structure in at least a direction selected from any one or both of an athwartship direction and longitudinal direction means to measure the force between said attractive force attachment element and the base structure of said mooring robot in at least any one or more of:

(i) a direction parallel to the said normal to provide a "normal force reading" (ii) a direction horizontal and perpendicular to said normal to provide a "horizontal shear force reading", and

(iii) a direction vertical and perpendicular to the normal to provide a "vertical shear force reading" means to control the flow rate of water through said at least one of opening responsive to at least one of the "readings".

Preferably the system controls the flow rate of the water in a manner to reduce any adverse loading by the vessel on the mooring robot when attached thereto as a consequence of water flow in said lock.

Preferably the means to control reduces the flow rate when at least one of the readings exceeds a predetermined threshold.

Preferably said attractive force attachment element comprises a vacuum pad or cup and said means to establish the attractive force between said vessel and said attractive force attachment element comprises a vacuum system in fluid communication with said suction coupler and includes a vacuum generator. Preferably at least two mooring robots are provided, one to be engaged more towards the bow of the vessel and one to be engaged more towards the stern of the vessel, wherein a secondary means to control is provided to control the attractive force of

eόch attractive force attachment element and in a manner whereiirwhen the attractive forces applied to the vessel surface by at least one of said mooring robot of each set reaches a first threshold the means to control operates in a manner to normalise the attractive force of each robot. In even a further aspect the present invention consists in a vessel mooring system for a lock that includes at least one variable flow opening for water inlet and/or outlet to allow variation of the water level in the lock said system comprising: at least one mooring robot secured to a quay of said lock, said mooring robot including a base structure fixed to said quay, a vacuum pad engaged to a base structure, said vacuum pad to be releasably engaged with a substantially vertically extending port or starboard side disposed vessel surface for making fast the vessel to said quay, said vacuum pad capable of exerting an attractive force normal to said vessel surface at which it is to be attached, a vacuum system to establish an attractive force between said vessel and said vacuum pad, actuator to move the vacuum pad relative to the base structure in at least a direction selected from any one or both of an athwartship direction and longitudinal direction sensor to measure the force between said vacuum pad and the base structure of said mooring robot in at least any one or more of:

(i) a direction parallel to the said normal to provide a "normal force reading" (ii) a direction horizontal and perpendicular to said normal to provide a "horizontal shear force reading", and

(iii) a direction vertical and perpendicular to the normal to provide a "vertical shear force reading" controller to control the flow rate of water through said at least one of opening responsive to at least one of the "readings".

Even further the present invention consists in a vessel mooring system for positioning of a vessel within a lock that includes a plurality of variable flow openings for

water inlet and/or outlet to allow variation of the water level in the lock said system comprising: at least one mooring robot for releasably fastening to said vessel said mooring robot including (a) a fixed structure fastened to the quay of said lock,

(b) an attractive force attachment element for releasable engagement with a surface of said vessel, means to generate a force signal representative of the force between the fixed structure and said attractive force attachment element in an athwartship direction and means to generate a force signal representative of the force between the fixed structure and said attractive force attachment element in a fore/aft direction, means to generate a force signal representative of the force between said attractive force attachment element and said vessel, a controller to control the flow rate of water through at least one valve, said controller responsive to said force signal in order to control the valve in a manner to reduce the prospect of adverse forces being established between said vessel and said attractive force attachment element due to water flow in said lock.

In a further aspect the present invention consists in a lock that includes closable openings through which water can enter into and/or flow out of the lock wherein the water flow rate through said openings can be controlled to reduce the establishing of currents in said lock that adversely affect the positioning of a vessel in said lock in response to the forces measured between the vessel and the means by which the vessel is moored to a quay of said lock.

In a further aspect the present invention consists in a method of operating a lock that includes closable openings through which water can enter into and/or flow out of the lock said method including controlling the water flow rate through said openings to reduce the establishing of currents in said lock that adversely affect the positioning of a vessel in said lock in response to the forces measured between the vessel and the means by which the vessel is moored to a quay of said lock. In a further aspect the present invention consists of a method of mooring a vessel within a lock by utilizing a mooring system that comprises

at least one mooring robot for releasably fastening to said vessel said mooring robot including:

(i) a fixed structure fastened to the quay of said lock, (ii) an attractive force attachment element for releasable engagement with a surface of said vessel, means to generate a force signal representative of at least one of a. the force between the fixed structure and said attractive force attachment element in an athwartship direction, and b. the force between the fixed structure and said attractive force attachment element in a fore/aft direction, c. the force between said attractive force attachment element and said vessel, said method comprising;

(i) comparing the signal to a database of loading information to determine if loading beyond a predetermined threshold on the vessel by water currents in the lock may be about to be encountered, and

(ii) if the comparison indicates that a force beyond a predetermined threshold is about to be encountered, taking measure(s) to reduce the force.

Preferably the measure(s) is to reduce the rate of flooding or draining of the lock as the case may be.

Preferably the database of loading information has been established by collection force signal(s) from previous visits of the vessel to the lock.

In a further aspect the present invention consists a lock within which a vessel is moored by at least one mooring device, the lock including at least one variable flow passage to facilitate lock flooding and/or draining to vary the water level in the lock, the condition of at least one of (i) position of the vessel within the lock, and (ii) the force applied by the vessel to said at least one mooring device being monitored so that a controller can control the flow characteristics of water through said at least one variable flow passage when the monitored condition goes beyond a predetermined threshold in order for the monitored condition to not be beyond the predetermined threshold.

In a further aspect the present invention consists a vessel moored in a lock and held by at least one mooring the device, the lock including a system as herein before

described.

In a further aspect the present invention consists a vessel moored in a lock as herein before described.

As used herein the term "and/or" means "and" or "or", or both. As used herein "(s)" following a noun means the plural and/or singular forms of the noun.

The term "comprising" as used in this specification means "consisting at least in part of. When interpreting statements in this specification which include that term, the features, prefaced by that term in each statement, all need to be present but other features can also be present. Related terms such as "comprise" and "comprised" are to be interpreted in the same manner.

This invention may also be said broadly to consist in the parts, elements and features referred to or indicated in the specification of the application, individually or collectively, and any or all combinations of any two or more of said parts, elements or features, and where specific integers are mentioned herein which have known equivalents in the art to which this invention relates, such known equivalents are deemed to be incorporated herein as if individually set forth.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS Further aspects of the present invention will become apparent from the following description which is given by way of example only and with reference to the accompanying drawings in which:

Figure 1 is a plan view illustrating a plurality of mooring robots holding a vessel in an engaged condition in a lock, Figure 1 a is a partial side view of the vessel in a lock and showing the water inlet/ outlet conduit,

Figure 1 b is a partial perspective view of a vessel and a lock,

Figure 2 is a perspective view of a type of mooring robot that may be used, engaged to a quay of a lock, illustrating the vacuum pads in a condition ready to locate against a hull of a vessel and wherein for subsequent reference herein, the axes of movement of the vacuum pads relative to the quay are illustrated,

Figure 3 shows more detail of a mooring robot,

Figure 4 is a side elevation of the mooring robot of Figure3,

Figure 5 is an exploded view of the mooring robot of Figure 3,

Figure 6 shows part of the mooring robot of Figure 5 from another viewpoint,

Figure 7 illustrates a force diagram in perspective, of the forces which may be applied and measured to the mooring robot of a kind as shown in Figure 2,

Figure 8 is an end view of Figure 7,

Figure 9 is a side view of Figure 7,

Figure 10 is a plan view of Figure 7,

Figure 11 is a perspective view of a force diagram showing three orthogonal axes in which forces may be measured in a mooring robot as for example shown in Figure 2,

Figure 12 is an end view of Figure 11,

Figure 13 is a side view of Figure 11,

Figure 14 is a plan view of Figure 11,

Figure 15 is a perspective view of a force diagram of a mooring robot of a kind as shown in Figure 2 and to illustrate that the geometry of the arrangement may be such as to not provide a direct measurement of force in the desired axis,

Figure 16 is an end view of Figure 15,

Figure 17 is a side view of Figure 15,

Figure 18 is a plan view of Figure 15, Figure 19 is a front view of an alternative configuration of mooring robot engaged to a quay of a lock,

Figure 20 is a side view of Figure 19,

Figure 21 is a plan view of Figure 19,

Figure 22 illustrates a mooring robot of Figures 19-21 and wherein an additional fender is provided,

Figure 23 is a front view of Figure 22,

Figure 24 is a side view of Figure 22,

Figure 25 is a schematic of the relationship of components of the system with the vessel and mooring robots.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

Referring to Figures 1, 2 and 3 of the drawings, the present invention may utilise a

mooring system incorporating at least one and in a more preferred form, a plurality of mooring robots 100, which may be of a kind described in PCT International Application No. PCT/NZ02/00062. The description of the mooring robots in PCT/NZ02/00062 is hereby incorporated by reference. Other preferred embodiments of a mooring robot may also be utilised and reference will hereinafter be made to an alternative form with reference to Figures 19 to 24. The mooring system may alternatively include mooring robots 100 fixed to the vessel allowing the vessel to be readily fastened to a bearing plate fixed to the quay 110. Reference will herein be made to the most preferred form of the invention where a mooring robots is fixed on a quay 110 of a lock. The present invention may also not utilise mooring robots for the purposes of fastening a vessel to the quay. Traditional means such as ropes may instead be used for such purposes. However, in such instance, the present invention still utilises vessel force sensing technology separate from the mooring technology, to effect its method of mooring a vessel. Such force sensing technology is like that used where the method of the invention is implemented using the preferred mooring robots as will herein be described. With reference to Figure 1 a plurality of mooring robots 100 may be mounted to a quay 110 or a lock 135.

The robots may for example be fixed to a front mooring face 112 and/or deck 11 of the quay. The mooring robot 100 as shown in Figure 3 preferably includes at least one or one pair of vacuum cups or pads 1, 1' which are maintained substantially parallel to the plane of the front mooring face 112 for engagement with the hull of a vessel. The cups are the preferred form of suction coupler to engage with the vessel. Preferably they will engage with vertically extending planar surfaces of a vessel such as a port or starboard side hull surface. The suction coupler(s) provide an attractive force between the fixed structure of the robot and the surface with which it is to engage (eg the hull of the vessel). Whilst the word "vacuum" is used herein, it will be appreciated that all that may be required to establish an attractive force, is a sufficient pressure differential between the air pressure in the cup and the ambient air pressure to overcome any external forces that may cause separation or relative movement between the vessel and the cup.

The mooring robot 100 may be capable of positioning the vacuum cups 1, 1' in " three dimensions, referred to herein as "vertical", "longitudinal" and "athwartship", also

corresporiding to axes Y, Z, X respectively. "Longitudinal" refers to a direction ■'* perpendicular to the axis and parallel to the longitudinal axis of the moored vessel or the front mooring face 112 of the dock.

Variations from axes X, Y and Z being perpendicular to each other are anticipated by the inventors and accordingly where such (but less desirable) non perpendicular components of direction are to be measured, the system of the present invention can be tailored to accommodate such deviations.

Whilst the mooring robot used for the mooring system may permanendy hold the vacuum cups in a fixed position, in the preferred form the cups can be moved relative to the fixed structure to thereby allow movement of the vessel when the cups are in an engaged condition. For such purposes, the mooring robot of Figure 3 includes a parallel arm linkage for movement of the vacuum cups 1, 1' in the athwartship direction. It includes parallel upper and lower arms 2, 2' connected between a pair of columns 114 of the framework 113 and a vertical guide 10. The arms 2, 2' are fixed to the framework 113 to allow for pivoting movement about respective longitudinally and horizontally extending axes wherein each arm 2, 2' is fixed in bearings 3 fastened to the columns 114. Likewise, a pivoting connection is provided between the arms 2, 2' and the guide assembly 10.

Actuation of movement of the vacuum cups in the athwartship direction is provided by a hydraulic ram 4 or rams that may also pivotably connected between the framework 113 and the guide 10.

A carriage 11 engages with the vertical guide 10 to control vertical movement. The guide 10 is an assembly including a pair of parallel elongate guide members 5, 5' connected by cross members 6, 7 and 8. Fixed to the top cross member 6 are two hydraulic motors 9, 9' that are each connected to a loop of chain 20 that extends parallel to each of the guide members 5, 5' and is connected to the carriage 11 for power actuated raising and lowering thereof.

As an alternative to hydraulic motors, hydraulic rams may be used. A sub-frame 12 to which the vacuum cups 1, 1' are mounted is slidably engaged with the carriage 11 for longitudinal direction movement of the vacuum cups 1, 1'. The carriage 11 includes vertical channels 21, 21' for engagement with the guide members 5, 5' and a longitudinally extending track 22 in which the sub-frame 11 is slidingly received.

Longitudinal direction movementOf the vacuum cups 1, 1' is actuated by hydraulic ram 23 fixed in the track 22, the ram 23 being a double-acting type with a continuous piston rod 24 extending from both ends of the cylinder 23.

Each mooring robot 100 also includes a hydraulic power source preferably mounted inside the framework 113 and associated controls.

A vacuum pump can draw a vacuum in the vacuum cups 1, V. Whilst reference is herein made to a vacuum and vacuum pump, such is to be considered as being of a kind where perhaps not a full vacuum is being provided but wherein a pressure differential between normal atmospheric conditions and the pressure within the enclosure defined between the hull and the vacuum cups is of a nature to establish a holding force between the vacuum cups and the hull. It may accordingly not be strictly speaking a vacuum that is being provided but is of such a pressure differential to ambient atmospheric pressure, sufficient for a holding force to be established by suction of the vacuum cups against the vessel. The mooring robot of Figure 3 allows for the positioning of the vacuum cups to be controlled both in the vertical, longitudinal and athwartship directions. Actuation of the hydraulic rams (or other means of actuation) to achieve such positioning in those directions will allow for the positioning of the vacuum pads to be adjusted to the desired position. Referring to Figure 1, to make fast a vessel, the vacuum cups 1, 1' are extended from the front mooring face 112 when a vessel 200 approaches. The cups are pre- positioned to engage with a planar section of the vessel. In the most preferred form the planar portion is part of the hull of the vessel. However it is anticipated that the vacuum cups may also be adapted for engagement to a non planar section of a hull. Locations other than the hull may also be suitable.

In the most preferred form the vacuum cups are engaged to a vertical surface of the vessel. This results in a horizontal suction force perpendicular to the longitudinal direction and vertical direction.

Mooring robots are preferably affixed to the quay and the vacuum pads become affixed to the vessel. A vice versa arrangement may be provided where the mooring robots form part of the vessel and the vacuum pads engage against a surface affixed to the quay.

- " Once contact is made with the cups against the vessel, the vacuum cups* 1, V are evacuated in order to fasten to the vessel. A pneumatic system is provided and includes a vacuum pump which may be activated until a differential pressure of a certain threshold (e.g. of 80%) to the ambient atmospheric pressure is obtained in the vacuum cups. An appropriate level of λ^acuum is achieved before any actuation of the mooring robot 100 to move the vessel 200 to the desired moored position.

After or before the desired moored position is reached the vacuum pump may be stopped and a vacuum accumulator (not shown) may be cut into the system including the vacuum cups 1, 1' to maintain the vacuum. Once the vacuum cups are engaged with the hull of the vessel 200, the vertical control of the vacuum pads may be inactivated such that the mooring robot becomes passive in the vertical positioning of the vacuum cups, at least while the cups remain affixed to the vessel. Changes in the water level or in the list or loading of the vessel thereby allow for the vacuum cups to free travel in a vertical direction relative to the quay and to the fixed structure of the mooring robot. The forces to which the vessel is subjected to as a result of loading and the state of the water level in the lock are of such a large quantity that the mooring robots of the present invention may not react against such in the vertical direction. Accordingly a free floating condition in a vertical direction of the vacuum cups is established once the vacuum cups are engaged to the hull. Some degree of passive movement of the vacuum pads relative to the fixed structure of the mooring robot may also be provided in rotational axes parallel to the X, Y and Z directions. Differential loading between the port and starboard side of a vessel may cause rotation of the hull surface about the Z axis. Similarly differential fore and aft loading may cause rotation of the hull about the X axis. Accordingly a yoke like connection of the vacuum pads with the fixed structure of the mooring robot may be provided.

Once engaged to the vessel, control of the system occurs to ensure the vessel remains safely moored. Such may in one respect be control over the positioning of the vacuum cups in a longitudinal and athwart direction relative to the fixed structure of the mooring robot such is preferably maintained by the hydraulic rams to thereby control the position of the vessel in these directions.

The system preferably operates such that each mooring robot 100 maintains the

vessel, within certain limits of displacement, in a moored condition in response to changing loading conditions resultant from any wind and water.

On attaining the desired moored position the hydraulic pump powering the rams may be stopped and an accumulator may be cut into the hydraulic lines to the rams 4 and 24, thus providing a resistive resilient passive mode of operation of the rams. When displacement from the desired predefined moored position by longitudinally or athwartship external forces occurs, the accumulator is passively pressurised increasing the hydraulic pressure and hence resistive force to the rams 4, 23 tending to restore the vessel to the desired moored position. Positioning can be determined from position indicator that may be part of the robot to which further reference will herein after be made.

Active pressurisation of the rams is preferably also controlled for purposes of repositioning and/or load distribution. Reference will be made to such hereinafter.

Whilst in one preferred form the vacuum or hydraulic pumps are cut out of the system when the accumulators are cut in, it is envisaged that the pumps may remain connected to the system simultaneously to the system being cut in with the accumulators.

The most critical forces to which the vessel is subjected are those caused by water currents in the lock and/or wind. Such may have a major component in the athwartship direction acting to separate or cause relative sliding movements between the vessel 200 from the robots 100. Forces in the fore and aft direction may also be encountered. Forces causing the vessel to list may also be encountered.

The forces to which the vessel may be subjected as a result of current and/or wind that act on the vessel in the athwartship direction may act to move the vessel away from the quay tending towards separation of the cups with the vessel. Such a tensile loading between the vessel and the quay can be taken up by the mooring robot. Such tensile loading acts to move the vessel in a direction which may ultimately lead to a popping off of the vessel from the vacuum cups. Similarly the longitudinal movement may result in a slipping of the cups long the hull of the vessel. The importance of maintaining a fixed relationship between the vacuum cups and the vessel in the longitudinal direction is therefore also high. In particular it is important to know the forces applied to the vacuum cup by such loading in directions parallel to the suction force for popping off reasons and perpendicular thereto for slippage reasons.

The vacuum cups may be operated over a large range of pressure differentials in

order to^maintain a connection with the vessel. Indeed where the wind or current force applied against the vessel in a direction such that the vessel is pushed against the vacuum cups, theoretically, no vacuum needs to be provided. However under tensile loading (opposite to the compressive loading) λ^acuum needs to be applied to the vacuum cups in order to ensure that a connection is maintained between the vessel and the mooring robots. However such vacuum need not be provided at the maximum vacuum possible to provide the maximum holding force between the vacuum cups and the vessel. By monitoring the force that is applied by the vessel to the mooring robot the system may in one aspect exercise a control over the vacuum cup vacuum in order for such to be maintained to a suitable level sufficient to maintain a mooring connection. Where the tensile loading applied by the vessel to the mooring robot exceeds a certain threshold, the vacuum system may be operated to increase the vacuum that is provided to the vacuum cups to thereby increase the holding strength of the vacuum cups with the vessel. For example in a normal operating condition the vacuum may be maintained at somewhere between 60 to 80%. As a result of an increase in tensile load applied by the vessel to the cups as measured between the cups and the fixed structure of the mooring robot, as soon as such force reaches a predetermined limit, the vacuum pumps may be actuated in order to increase the vacuum and thereby the tensile force holding capacity. Conversely where the tensile load applied by the vessel to the mooring robot falls below a certain threshold (whether it is the same threshold as the threshold to activate the vacuum pumps or other) the vacuum may be reduced or the λ^acuum pump may be stopped. The vacuum limits may be different to thereby provide a hysteresis effect in the mooring system configuration of the pneumatic system.

Quite separately but appropriate to mention at this stage, is also the fact that the vacuum system may not be entirely leak proof. The vacuum may drop as a result of leakage to below a certain minimum threshold (such as for example 60%). As a result of a monitoring by the system of the vacuum pressure (within the enclosure defined by the cups and the vessel) the vacuum pump can be started so as to enhance the vacuum to a predetermined operating condition (such as for example between 60 and 80% vacuum). So in addition to the control of the degree of vacuum in response to the tensile loading that is applied by the vessel to the mooring robot, vacuum pressure per se may be monitored and controlled by the system of the present invention.

Maintenance of the connection betweemthe vacuum cups and the vessel is also important during repositioning of the vessel. The mooring robots are preferably capable of repositioning the vessel to a new location (in a longitudinal and/or athwartship displacement). The hydraulic rams of the mooring robot to position the vacuum cups athwartship and/or longitudinally can be actuated for the purposes of moving the vacuum cup(s) whilst they are engaged with the vessel. Such movement will thereby result in the movement of the vessel relative to the quay. As will be appreciated a vessel of a significantly large size and of a significant mass will have substantial inertial mass that has to be considered during the movement of the vessel by the mooring robots. The application of force to the vessel by the mooring robots for the purposes of moving the vessel will need to take into consideration such inertia. Particularly with a view to ensuring that during displacement the vacuum cups remain in a condition with vacuum sufficient to remain attached to the vessel.

The monitoring of the loading in at least the athwartship direction is important for the purposes of determining whether failure of the connection may occur. The monitoring of such forces to determine when a predetermined limit may be reached may then allow for an alarm to be sounded before such a limit is reached so that emergency action can be taken such as for example to secure additional fastening means to keep the vessel fastened to the quay and/or increase or redistribution of vacuum and loading forces.

In the most preferred form and with reference to Figure 3, the athwartship direction force between the vessel and the mooring robot is for example monitored by a pressure sensing of the hydraulic pressure in the ram 4. With reference to Figure 25, a pressure transducer 60 is connected to the pressure line of the hydraulic cylinder or cylinders 4 which control the positioning of the vacuum cups in the athwartship direction. By the measurement of the hydraulic pressure by way of the pressure transducer 60 in the hydraulic rams 4, the force that is applied to the hydraulic rams 4 can be determined. Where the hydraulic ram actuates in a substantially horizontal direction and perpendicular to the longitudinal direction the pressure within the hydraulic line to the hydraulic cylinder 4 will be proportional to the athwartship force applied by the vessel to the mooring robot. Geometric changes in the mooring robot configuration can be accounted for in this calculation.

Withreference to Figure 7 to Figure 10 it can be seen that a hydraulic ram 4 * extending in the athwartship direction has its actuation forces acting parallel to the athwartship direction X and accordingly the hydraulic pressure in the ram 4 can be directly interpolated to the force Fx provided by the vessel to the mooring robot. Where the position of the hydraulic ram 4 relative to the athwartship direction X may vary as is the case in the mooring robot of Figures 3 and 4, or figure 36, a knowledge of the angular displacement of the axis of operation of the ram 4 relative to the athwartship direction X may also need to be determined in order for the hydraulic pressure measured by the transducer 60 to be converted to a force in the athwartship direction X. With reference to Figures 15 to 17 it can be seen that the ram 4 may be provided in an angular displacement A to the X direction. With Pythagoras theorem calculus, the knowledge of the hydraulic pressure of the ram 4 and die resultant force calculated therefrom can be resolved to determine the force Fx provided by the vessel on the mooring robot in the athwartship direction. With reference to Figure 4 upon the displacement of the vacuum cups 1 in the athwartship direction X such will result in a variation in the angle that the operational axis of the ram 4 makes with the athwartship direction X. The more the vacuum cups extend away from the quay, the larger the angular displacement will be. However because the points of pivot between the fixed structure 113 and the moving structure 10 of the mooring robot are known, a measurement of the extension of the hydraulic ram will allow for the angle that the operational direction of the hydraulic ram 4 makes to the athwartship direction X. Simple calculations will allow for the hydraulic pressure 4 determined by the transducer 60 to be resolved for an athwartship direction force X. Similarly the mass of the components 100 swung about the pivot such as pivot 3 from the fixed structure can also be factored into the equation for resolving the pressure of hydraulic ram 4 into an athwartship force direction. The greater the extension of the ram 4 the greater the effect of the weight of the components 102 on the hydraulic ram 4 will be. Alternatively angular measurement means may be provided.

In the configurations of the mooring robots of Figures 19 to 23, where the rams to displace the vacuum pads in the athwartship direction remain parallel to the athwartship direction, no angular displacement of the rams occurs and no such additional steps to the calculations are necessary.

In addition to the determination of the athwartship direction forces between the

mooring robot and the vessel, it is advantageous s to also know the longitudinal direction forces in direction Z between the mooring robot and the vessel. Such forces can tend towards inducing a shear between the vacuum cups 1 and the vessel 200. It is important that the shear direction force is resisted by ensuring that a strong vacuum is maintained between the vacuum cups and the vessel in order to prevent the vessel from moving in a longitudinal direction relative to the vacuum cups. If such movement occurred, a slipping of the vacuum cups relative to the vessel will result which is likely to ultimately lead to a disconnection between the vessel and the vacuum cups.

Similar to any movement of the vessel in an athwartship direction by the mooring robot, it is also important to know the forces between the vessel and the mooring robot when the vessel is being moved by the mooring robot in the longitudinal direction. It is important to ensure that the forces do not exceed a limit which is known to result in a shear failure of connection between the vacuum cups and the vessel.

In the mooring robot of Figure 3 but with reference to the exploded view thereof shown in Figure 5, the control of the positioning of the λ^acuum cups in the longitudinal direction is achieved by the ram 23. One part of the ram is engaged to the fixed structure of the mooring robot and the other is engaged to the structure movable with the vacuum cups in the longitudinal direction. Actuation of the ram 23 results in the displacement of the vacuum cups in the longitudinal direction. In a manner similar to the measurement of force in the athwartship direction, a measurement of the force in the longitudinal direction can be made by the determination of the hydraulic pressure of the ram 23. With reference to Figure 26, the pressure transducer 62 may be utilised for determination of the pressure to the hydraulic ram 23 to thereby allow for the determination of the force in the longitudinal direction Z. In the configuration of mooring robot as shown in Figure 3, the ram 23 remains in all conditions, acting in a direction parallel to the longitudinal direction. Accordingly the pressure determined by the pressure transducer 62 will remain proportional to the longitudinal force applied by the vessel to the mooring robot. No non alignment factors of the ram relative to the longitudinal direction Z need to be taken into consideration in the preferred configuration.

The pressure detected by the pressure transducer 62 is preferably fed to a processing unit for the purposes of one or more of (a) calculation, (b) evaluation (c) monitoring (d)

comparison and (e) recording. More detailed reference will hereinafter be made to sueh.

The hydraulics to actuate the displacement of the ram 23 may (likewise to the ram 4) be cut into an accumulator loop of the system where it is desired and/or appropriate for the hydraulic ram 23 to operate in a passive mode. In such a passive mode the hydraulic ram will operate akin to a spring to any movement of the vacuum cups in the longitudinal direction Z. A lineal transducer 63 is preferably provided to determine the displacement of the vacuum cups in the longitudinal direction relative to the fixed structure of the mooring robot. The linear transducer will feed back the displacement information to the processing unit which may be configured to control the actuation of the ram 23 where for example the displacement of the vacuum cups is close to specified limits. In such a situation the hydraulics to the ram 23 may be cut out of the accumulator loop and into a pump loop to increase the hydraulic pressure to the ram 23 appropriately to ensure the maintenance of the displacement of the vacuum cups in the longitudinal direction to within desired limits. With reference to Figure 26 it can be seen that a similar hydraulic pressure measurement may be made of the rams 64 actuating the movement of the vacuum cups in the vertical direction however such measurement is less consequential since as has been before described, in operation the mooring robot will allow for such vertical movement to be substantially free from hydraulic control by the rams 64. A linear transducer 65 is preferably also provided between those fixed components of the mooring robot and the components moving in the vertical direction to position the vertical displacement of the vacuum cups to determine the positioning of the vacuum cups relative to the fixed structure of the mooring robot. Shear direction force in the vertical direction may hence also be measured. With reference to Figures 7 to 10 it can be seen how the measured forces Fx and Fz may be utilised for determining an overall force on the mooring robot Fxz. Likewise where in addition to the measurement of the hydraulic pressure in rams 4 and 23, pressure is also determined for the purposes of calculating the force applied by the ram 64, the force Fxyz may be determined as a vector sum of the forces Fx, Fy and Fz as for example shown in Figures 11 to 14. However the components of the total force in the Fx, Fz (and preferably but less importantly Fy) are determined more importantly for the purposes of ensuring that the known limits of the vacuum cups in each of the component

directions is not exceeded. The holding force of the^vacuum cups in the directions X and Z can be easily determined (whether mathematically or empirically) and the forces acting in such component directions need to be known to ensure that the ultimate limits of such holding force are not reached. A data table may be used/established for the shear force holding capacity over a range of Fv. Some variation will occur dependent on the characteristics of the surface which the vacuum pad will engage.

In addition to the monitoring of the force applied by the vessel to the mooring robot in the athwartship direction X, the position of the vessel relative to a fixed structure of the mooring robot and/or quay may also be determined. Where the vessel moves relative to the fixed structure of the mooring robot beyond certain limits, the accumulator may be cut out of the hydraulic system of the ram 4 and pumps may be actuated appropriately to move and maintain the vacuum pads and hence the vessel in the athwartship direction to a specified or within a range of limits of displacement. Such displacement may for example be measured by the measurement of the extension of the hydraulic ram 4 likewise longitudinal positional control may be exercised.

Known displacement measuring devices may be utilised for such purposes. Such may include optical or laser measuring components or linear transducers. There is currently also available a system that reads "marks" on a hydraulic cylinder shaft that works in much the same way as an electronic vernier. The measurement of displacement (e.g.. by linear transducer 61) in the athwartship direction like the measurement of the hydraulic pressure by the pressure transducer 60 are fed to a central processing unit. With the knowledge of the displacement of the vessel in the athwartship direction relative to the fixed structure of the mooring robot and with the knowledge of the forces between the fixed structure of the mooring robot and the vessel, a significant degree of control and monitoring of the status of the vessel can be maintained by the mooring robot of the present invention

With reference to Figures 19 to 21 there is shown an alternative configuration of mooring robot 100. The mooring robot in this example consists of four vacuum pads 1 supported by a structure engaged to a quay such as the front face 112 of the quay and the deck 113 of the quay. A vertical displacement carriage 81 is provided to mount the vacuum cups 1 from vertically extending rails 82 to allow the vacuum cups to travel in a

vertical direction.-A sub-carriage 83 is provided from the carriage 81 to allow the sub- carriage and hence the vacuum cups 1 to travel in a longitudinal direction and between the rails 82. Hydraulic rams and a supporting structure 84 are preferably provided to allow for the displacement of the cups 1 in an athwartship direction from both the carriage 81 and sub-carriage 83. Displacement of the vacuum cups 1 relative to the fixed structure of the mooring robot 100 as shown in Figures 19 to 21 is preferably provided in the athwartship direction by hydraulic rams. Likewise the movement in the longitudinal direction is provided by hydraulic rams. Movement in the vertical direction in this configuration may not necessarily be by hydraulic rams and may instead be by rack and pinion or similar arrangement to allow for the displacement of the vacuum cups in the vertical direction. The hydraulic rams to actuate the movement in the athwartship direction and in the longitudinal direction are preferably engaged to pressure transducers which (for the purposes and in a similar configuration as that described with reference to the mooring robot of Figure 3) allow for the determination of the forces applied by the vessel to the mooring robot in the longitudinal and athwartship directions. Figures 22 to 24 show by the shaded region 180 the degree of freedom of movement that can be achieved by the mooring robot of this configuration to position the vacuum cups within the envelope 180.

In terms of the monitoring and control of the system, each of the mooring robots 100 is connected by a link (e.g. wireless) to a remote control unit mounted aboard the vessel 200. The remote control transmits a signal to each mooring robot 100 to control its position and operation, and receives feedback of actual position forces and vacuum pressures including the magnitude and direction of the mooring loads in at least the athwartships direction. By displaying this information at the bridge of the vessel the master is able to take actions to reduce or redistribute the loads and also receives instant feedback upon the effects of these actions.

Under most conditions the operation of the mooring robots 100 is coordinated, for example, when mooring and unmooring the vessel, or when performing vertical or horizontal stepping movements, as described in WO 0162584 which is hereby incorporated by way of reference. Monitoring of hydraulic pressures in the rams 4, 23 and vacuum in the vacuum cups 1, 1' allows the performance of the system to adjusted to attain optimum use of each mooring robot 100.

Operation of the lock in a safe manner is paramount. Another important factor is lock through-put. The faster a lock can be flooded and drained, the faster its cycle time and the higher the vessel through-put. A balancing of safe lock operation and high through-put can result in the optimisation of the lock's operation. Safety may be compromised if a vessel is subjected to sudden movement or if the vessel is subjected to a force or forces that can result in it breaking loose from its moorings. Such forces are often encountered in a lock by water currents in a lock during flooding and draining.

Where the vessel is moored by mooring robots, the holding capacity of the mooring robots may be approached due to undesirable loading acting on the vessel as a result of water currents within the lock. The present invention can change water conditions such as the water currents in the lock.

This may be achieved by changing the flow velocity (speed and/or direction) and/or flow rate. ' Changing the flow rate of water through the water deUVery and/or drain conduit or passage 510 is the preferred mode.

Alternatively or in addition, the direction of flow of water into and/or out of the lock may be varied to change the water currents in the lock. This may be achieved by the use of a member that has a surface of surfaces of incidence to the flow of water passing into or out of the lock through the passage that can be adjusted. Fixed or moveable vanes or other surfaces may be provided to achieve such. Lock flood and/or drain manifold shapes or other control of the passage 510 etc may be such as to achieve that.

Other measure such as establishing a greater mooring capacity may also be implemented. Undesirable water conditions in a lock are primarily established due to the nature of water flow into/out of the lock. Valves 511 can be controlled as part of the method of the present invention to change water flow into/out of the lock in response to the detection of (a) undesirable loading on the vessel and/or (b) undesirable acceleration of the vessel and/or (c) undesired displacement of the vessel. For example one or more of a number of valves may be automatically shut to reduce or stop water flow through its passage to thereby reduce the flow rate and alter the state of the water in the lock that is causing the adverse loading on the vessel. A number

of valves may be controllecHn this manner to ensure that no undesirable currents or surging is established within the lock to ensure that the vessel remains safely moored. Controlling the flow rate may be done manually or automatically in response to information determined from the moored condition of the vessel. Such information is preferably determined from force signals representative of a force of forces between the vessel and the quay of the lock. The information may also include position information of the plan view position of the vessel in the lock. It may also include the degree of list of the vessel.

An operator may have information displayed in front of them about the status of the forces and/or position of the vessel. A manual control by the operator of water flow rates though the passage may be effected in order to ensure the mooring forces and vessel displacement and accelerations remain within acceptable limits. Such control may include a manual shut down of all the valves controlling water flow to stop any draining and/or flooding of the lock. So whilst automated control is possible, manual control may also be desirable. Manual control or override control may be provided at locks where a large number of factors may contribute to vessel instability.

Factors that may influence how control of the flow or water is controlled may include vessel shape, its weight, water density, lock shape, manifold shape and location of vessel in the lock. Collection of empirical data can be achieved by the present invention. The moored condition of a particular vessel can be measured during flooding and draining of the lock.

Factors such as the vessels weight, and load characteristics, wind direction and strength, may also be take into account.

This information can be stored and can help create a look-up table. This may be used in future so that the system can control lock operation in an efficient yet safe manner. Over time, the information gathered can allow for flood and drain rates to be set dependent on vessel and other information input into the system.

Collected and recorded information can in future be utilised for configuring the particular mooring facility or other mooring facilities of the present invention for the particular vessel. With the knowledge of various factors, having collected statistical information on the mooring behaviour of a particular vessel before, the system of the present invention can be configured in a manner suitable for future mooring the

particular vessel.

The information can also be useful for statistical analysis.

Optimisation may also occur for multiple vessels in the lock and also for positioning of multiple vessels in a lock. Other information can be gathered to ensure safe yet optimum operation of the lock. For example, in some locks, vessels can experience a sudden listing. If a tell tale acceleration or displacement of a vessel precedes such listing, then having the ability to measure the moored condition of a ship can allow the preventative measures to be taken.

The determination of the moored condition of the vessel may also be achieved by a device(s) other than or in addition to those mentioned with reference to the mooring robots herein described. For example, forces and displacements that can be measured by a mooring robot as described above, may instead be determined by a device that does not itself also moor the vessel. Such information can then be used for the same purposes as described above. Such a device may resemble a mooring robot as herein described but may not have the capacity to moor the vessel. Ropes may be used to moor the vessel, in conjunction with such a device.

Collection of data by the present invention as well as the control of lock flooding and/or draining offers significant advantages to lock operators.

The system allows determination of the moored condition of a vessel. For example it allows the determination of the displacement from a pre-determined reference position of a moored vessel and thereby allow such distances to be compared with user defined tolerances. The system may provide for a counteracting the longitudinal and athwartship forces applied to the vessel by water current in the lock. The system may allow for the ongoing measurement of forces acting on the vessels hull as a result of current flow and wind loading in several directions. In addition the system may allow for list and/or the vertical forces to be determined and vertical travel to be determined.

Combining some or all of the values that may be measured by the system of the present invention will allow for the overall forces and/or vessel position to be continuously and immediately calculated and monitored. An alarm can be triggered when the moored condition of the vessel is approaching holding capacity or the mooring device(s) .Such may be determined by the loads at each robot. Such loads, if approaching the holding capacities of their respective vacuum cups,

allows the vessel's captain to take emergency action. Optionally the captain may set an "alert" at some level below this alarm level.

With reference to Figure 25, which shows a schematic of an arrangement of components for the system of the present invention, it can be seen that data collected from the mooring robots is processed by a shore based PLC. The PLC may be connected to an industrial PC for further processing of data and/or control of the system via the PLC. A radio link to the vessel may be provided from the shore based component of the system of the present invention although as an alternative, such a link may be a hard wired link. Data collected by the shore based PLC can in such a way be transmitted to the vessel where display of the information processed by the shore based system and/or further processing of the data from the shore based system may occur. A vessel based PLC and/or PC may provide any additional processing and allow for relevant information to be displayed. Any input from either the shore based or vessel based PC can be transmitted to the shore based PLC for the active control over both the positioning and forces that are applied by each individual mooring robot and vacuum at the vacuum cups to ensure a desirable connection is maintained between the mooring robots and the vessel. In the most preferred form all feedback from the mooring units is communicated to the shore based PLC and then appropriate data is transmitted for display on the PCs on shore and vessel.