The present invention relates to an autopilot assembly
for a naval unit or means.
As known, naval units in general are provided with one
or more directional or stabiliser members arranged in different positions according
to the type of naval unit, and normally associated to either the bow or stern portion,
or to both portions. Each directional or stabiliser member turns about its own hinge
axis under the bias of a respective hydraulic actuator controlled by an electrohydraulic
valve unit, as disclosed, for example, in
US 6, 273, 771
The known electrohydraulic valve assemblies are controlled
by a centralised autopilot assembly common to all valve assemblies, generally of
the insertable card type. The autopilot assembly is arranged on the floor, concentrated
in a median zone of the naval unit, and is connected by means of appropriate electrical
wirings to the various electrohydraulic valve assemblies. A control console provided
with manual control and monitoring devices for the human/machine interface manoeuvres
is also envisaged and arranged in the same median zone of the naval unit.
The known autopilot assemblies of the type described above
have a series of drawbacks, all consequent to their centralised arrangement. Such
configuration, on one hand allows to localise the control "intelligence" of the
entire naval unit in a median zone of the naval means, but on the other hand requires
the availability of large housing spaces and, in particular, of extended resting
areas on the floor. Although such spaces and resting areas may be envisaged in some
types of naval units despite considerable difficulties and inevitable compromises,
these are difficult to obtain in other types of naval units, in which the optimal
distribution of spaces is one of the main, most ambitious objectives and often the
most difficult to reach.
Furthermore, the large dimensions of the known autopilot
assemblies and their traditional parallelepiped shape, similar to that of common
office cabinets, make the so-called "re-fitting" operations, i.e. reinstallation
of new-generation apparatuses in naval means in service to replace those in use
which have become obsolete, particularly difficult and often impossible.
The particular type and arrangement of the known autopilot
assemblies also requires the use of considerable electrical wiring bundles for connecting
to the electrohydraulic valve assemblies and to the control console. Such electrical
wiring bundles inevitably extend for the entire length of the naval means occupying
considerable spaces and increasing the weight of the naval means itself.
The known autopilot assemblies are not completely satisfactory
even from a safety point of view, since all directional or stabiliser members could
become simultaneously uncontrollable in the event of damage in the central unit
area, with imaginable consequences for naval unit management.
It is the object of the present invention to make an autopilot
assembly for naval units or means, whose features allow to simply and cost-effectively
solve the problems presented above.
According to the present invention it is realized an autopilot
assembly for a naval unit comprising at least one directional or stabiliser unit
turning about at least one hinge axis, an electrohydraulic unit arranged near said
directional or stabiliser member for turning the directional or stabiliser member
about said hinge axis; the autopilot assembly being characterised in that it presents
a distributed architecture and comprises at least one electronic control unit dedicated
to said electrohydraulic unit and accommodated near said electrohydraulic unit.
Preferably, the autopilot assembly for naval unit further
comprises at least one further directional or stabiliser member and a further electrohydraulic
unit dedicated to and arranged near said further directional or stabiliser member,
and is characterised in that it comprises a further electronic control unit of said
further electrohydraulic unit; said electronic control units being separate and
reciprocally independent and each accommodated near the respective electrohydraulic
The invention will now be described with reference to the
accompanying drawings illustrating a non-limitative embodiment example thereof,
- figure 1 schematically and partially shows a naval unit provided with a first
preferred embodiment of the autopilot assembly according to the present invention;
- figure 2 shows another naval unit provided with a second preferred embodiment
of the autopilot assembly according to the present invention;
- figure 3 shows on a highly enlarged scale a detail of the autopilot assembly
of figures 1 and 2; and
- figure 4 shows a variant of the assembly in figure 3.
In figure 1, it is indicated as a whole by 1 a naval unit
or means presenting a bow portion 2, an intermediate portion 3 and a stern portion
4. The stern portion 4 is coupled to a directional member or rudder 6 turning about
an axis 7.
The rudder 6 is controlled by an electrohydraulic unit,
indicated by 11, accommodated in the stern portion 4 in a position adjacent to the
rudder 6 to turn the rudder 6 itself about the axis 7. The electrohydraulic unit
11 comprises a hydraulic actuator 13 and a respective proportioning valve or servovalve
assembly 15 controlling the hydraulic actuator 13 itself.
The valve assembly 15 is in turn controlled by a autopilot
unit 16 presenting a distributed architecture and comprising a specifically dedicated
electronic control unit 17 which represents the "intelligence" of the rudder control
6. The electronic unit 17 presents a flat parallelepiped shape with dimensions in
the order of 300x220x80 millimetres, and is accommodated within the stern portion
4 near the electrohydraulic unit 15 and, therefore, also near the rudder 6.
In the case of the described detail, the electronic control
unit 17 is spaced away from an internal floor surface 18 (figures 3 and 4) for the
occupants of the naval unit and, more precisely, is arranged in raised position
with respect to the internal floor surface 18 itself.
Again with reference to the accompanying figures, the autopilot
assembly 16 further comprises the human-machine interface unit 19 accommodated in
intermediate position 3, and therefore in remote position with respect to the electronic
control unit 17. In the example shown, the interface unit 19 is connected to the
electronic unit 17 to send electrical driving signals and receive rudder position
signals in reply.
According to a variant (not shown), the autopilot assembly
16 further comprises a pair of electronic units 17, which are connected in parallel
to the electrohydraulic unit 15 and to the interface unit 19 to make a redundant
With reference to figure 3, the interface unit 19 presents
a modular distributed architecture and comprises a plurality of modular elements
or modules 20, two of which formed by shields 21. These modules may be stacked one
on the other, as shown in figure 3, or arranged side-by-side, as shown in figure
4, or even be separated, arranged and connected in the most convenient way, according
to the available space aboard the naval unit. A third module, indicated with 22,
is a manoeuvre module provide with handwheel or cloche 23. This module may also
be arranged in different positions from that shown in the accompanying figures according
to the operator's needs and may be either installed with or replaced by an additional
or optional manoeuvre module indicated by number 24 comprising a keyboard 25 and
a joystick 26 and electrically connected by means of a wiring harness or other electrical
system to be moved to remote position with respect to the other modules 20 or to
any other position chosen by the operator.
Figure 2 shows a naval unit 30, which differs from unit
1 for some manufacturing details and whose constituent parts are distinguished,
where possible, by the same reference numbers as the corresponding parts of the
naval unit 1.
The naval unit 30, in addition to the rudder 6, comprises
two further directional or stabiliser members, intrinsically known, indicated by
31 and arranged on opposite sides of the bow portion 2 to turn about respective
axes 32. The members 31 are controlled by respective electrohydraulic units indicated
by 33 and accommodated in bow portion 2 next to the respective members 31 to turn
the members 31 themselves about the respective axes 32. As unit 11, each electrohydraulic
unit 33 comprises its own hydraulic actuator 34 and a respective proportioning valve
or servovalve assembly 35 controlling the hydraulic actuator 34.
In naval unit 30, the autopilot assembly 16 further comprises
a further electronic control unit 36 which in the particular example shown is constructively
and dimensionally equivalent to the control unit 17. The control unit 36 is separated
and independent from the electronic unit 17, and as shown in figure 2, is also arranged
next to the respective electrohydraulic units and in remote position with respect
to the interface unit 19, to which is electrically connected in the same way as
electronic unit 17.
According to a variant (not shown), the naval unit 30 comprises
at least a further directional member, which is arranged near the directional member
6 and is operated by a respective electrohydraulic unit also controlled by an electrohydraulic
unit similar or equivalent to the units 17 and 36 to turn about an axis orthogonal
to axis 7. The latter electronic unit is independent from the other electronic units
17 and 36 and is also electrically connected to the interface unit 19.
According to that shown again in figure 2, in the naval
unit 30, the autopilot assembly 16 comprises two electronic units 36 both connected
in parallel to the electrohydraulic unit 33 to make a further redundant control.
In use, each of the electronic units, for the fact of being
an independent unit which encloses the intelligence for controlling the respective
directional or stabiliser member, controls the respective directional or stabiliser
member independently from the other electronic units. The interface unit 19 coordinates
the various electronic units sending only driving signals, conveniently in serial
form, which are then converted into signals by the electronic units themselves which,
later, send a simple feedback signal for informing the operator to the interface
From the above, it is therefore apparent that with respect
to the known solutions, all wirings which extended from the intermediate portion
3 towards the bow or stern portions according to the arrangement of the directional
or stabiliser members are considerably reduced and in some cases practically eliminated,
thus creating reusable spaces, and above all simplifying the installation, on-board
testing and maintenance of the autopilot assembly.
Furthermore, the fact of envisaging single dedicated electronic
units arranged near the rudders or the turning stabiliser units and therefore to
the opposite axial ends of the naval unit considerably increases safety and global
management of the naval means itself also in the event of damage. Indeed, damage
which may concern one of the electronic units will not influence the other electronic
units, which will therefore continue to perform their function allowing the management
of the naval unit.
The use of evolved integrated systems, alternatively to
the known solutions of the insertable card type, additionally allows to drastically
reduce the dimensions of each on-board unit, and in particular of the electronic
units reducing them to dimensions comparable to those of a common laptop computer,
and therefore to accommodate the electronic units themselves in axial end zones,
and in particular to connect them directly to the hull of the naval unit, distancing
them in this way from the floor level, always very limited on-board.
The contained dimensions of the electronic units also allow
not only the rapid removal and replacement in the event of a failure, but also convenient
on-board storage of spare parts. The fact of having independent and reciprocally
separated control zones both functionally and physically allows then to drastically
cut troubleshooting times and therefore to rapidly intervene on the failed part.
The fact of envisaging a distributed architecture autopilot
assembly and of transferring the control "intelligence" from the intermediate portion
of the naval means to longitudinal end zones or zones away from the intermediate
portion of the naval means allows to make a considerable space available in the
intermediate portion itself, with respect to the known solutions, and therefore
to reorganise the distribution of the various components of the human-machine interface,
thus creating a distributed architecture control console, consequently more ergonomic
and above all more versatile and reconfigurable, as shown by the accompanying figures
by way of example.
From the above it is apparent that changes and variants
can be made to the described naval units 1 and 3 and the control autopilot assembly
16 without departing from the protective scope defined by the claims.