Review of floating object manipulation by autonomous multi-vessel systems

Z. Du*, Rudy R. Negenborn, Vasso Reppa

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
26 Downloads (Pure)


The regulatory endorsement of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the support of pivotal shipping market players in recent years motivate the investigation of the potential role that autonomous vessels play in the shipping industry. As the complexity and scale of the envisioned applications increase, research works gradually transform the focus from single-vessel systems to multi-vessel systems. Thus, autonomous multi-vessel systems applied in the shipping industry are becoming a promising research direction. One of the typical research directions is floating object manipulation by multiple tugboats. This paper offers a comprehensive literature review of the existing research on floating object manipulation by autonomous multi-vessel systems. Based on the prior knowledge of object manipulation problems in multi-robot systems, four typical ways of maritime object manipulation are summarized: attaching, caging, pushing, and towing. The advantages and disadvantages of each manipulation way are discussed, including its typical floating object and application scenarios. Moreover, the aspects of control objective, control architecture, collision avoidance operation, disturbances consideration, and role of each involved vessel are analyzed for gaining insight into the approaches for solving these problems. Finally, challenges and future directions are highlighted to give possible inspiration.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)255-278
JournalAnnual Reviews in Control
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Autonomous vessels
  • Floating object manipulation
  • Multi-vessel systems
  • Physically connected systems


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