Photo: Courtesy of The Nippon Foundation

Japanese duo trials fully autonomous ship navigation system

A demonstration test of what is said to be the world’s first fully autonomous ship navigation systems on a large car ferry has been completed in Japan.

Mitsubishi Shipbuilding, a part of an industrial firm Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) Group, and marine transport company Shin Nihonkai Ferry demonstrated a fully autonomous navigation system, on a 222-metre ferry, with autonomous port berthing and unberthing using turning and reversing movements and high-speed navigation.

Courtesy of The Nippon Foundation

The fully autonomous operation system also includes sensors to detect other ships using infrared cameras, a remote engine monitoring system, and a sophisticated cyber security system.

The demonstration, which is a part of MEGURI 2040 – a project promoting the development of fully autonomous vessels supported by The Nippon Foundation, took place on 17 January on the Iyonada Sea from Shinmoji, Kitakyushuu City.

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According to MHI, research and development of fully autonomous ship navigation is intended to address maritime issues including crew shortages and accident prevention. It is also seen as a significant step toward safer and more efficient coastal shipping.

The demonstration test is a part of the fully autonomous Smart Coastal Ferry project under which the newly built SOLEIL ferry began navigating with an onboard crew on 1 July 2021, compiling data for the development of a fully autonomous ship navigation system.

As informed, Mitsubishi Shipbuilding was responsible for the integration of the entire navigation system while Shin Nihonkai Ferry was in charge of setting the vessel’s system requirements and conducting the demonstration test.

The trial was conducted on a 240-kilometre route from Shinmoji (Northern Kyushu) to Iyonada, which takes approximately 7 hours, at a maximum speed of 26 knots (approximately 50 km/hour).

The test vessel was equipped with a high-precision sensor image analysis system with infrared cameras that can detect other ships even in darkness, a SUPER BRIDGE-X automated ship navigation system that includes an automated avoidance function, and an automated port berthing/unberthing operation system that can perform turning and reversing movements, MHI described.

The project is developing and testing fault prediction and enhanced engine monitoring technologies as well as various other technologies that are essential to the promotion of fully autonomous navigation.

Mitsuyuki Unno, executive director, The Nippon Foundation, said: “This was the world’s first fully autonomous ship navigation of a large vessel of over 200 metres in length with a maximum running speed of 26 knots, and I hope this will lead to further development toward practical use. There are still many issues to be resolved, however, and I believe today’s results will be a guide toward the creation of international rules for fully autonomous vessels”.

Naoki Ueda, executive vice president, Mitsubishi Shipbuilding, noted that this demonstration test accelerated the development of fully autonomous ship navigation systems using many advanced technologies including artificial intelligence.

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