Photo: Suzaku container ship. Courtesy of The Nippon Foundation

Japanese autonomous ship framework gets green light from ClassNK and BV

Japanese shipping firm NYK Line and its group companies MTI and Japan Maritime Science have received approval in principle (AiP) from classification societies ClassNK and Bureau Veritas (BV) for a fully autonomous ship framework for the first time in the country.

As disclosed, the framework received the AiP on 1 March 2022 and is currently being developed under the name of APExS-auto, which is an acronym for “Action Planning and Execution System for Full Autonomous”.

It includes high-speed computer-based information processing technology and risk analyses that support crew members’ situational awareness and the decision-making necessary for manoeuvring, NYK explains.

APExS-auto was developed as an expansion of the crewed autonomous ship framework APExS into the fully autonomous ship framework. NYK said it contributed significantly to the fully autonomous ship demonstration conducted by the DFFAS consortium from 26 February to 1 March 2022.

During the mentioned time period, the Designing the Future of Full Autonomous Ship (DFFAS) consortium conducted a trial simulating the actual operation of a fully autonomous ship at a distance of approximately 790 kilometres between Tokyo Bay and Ise Bay.

The consortium is participating in the Joint Technological Development Programme for the Demonstration of Fully Autonomous Ships under the fully autonomous ship project MEGURI 2040 administrated by the Nippon Foundation.

In the trial, the container ship Suzaku was equipped with an autonomous navigation function and connected by satellite and a ground communication line to a fleet operation centre that had functions such as remote manoeuvring and engine-abnormality prediction to support the operation of a fully autonomous ship from shore.

Suzaku container ship. Courtesy of The Nippon Foundation

This was the fifth demonstration in the autonomous ship project which also saw the sea trial with two different types of ships — a coastal containership and a coastal car ferry, by the consortium involving Mitsui O.S.K. Lines (MOL).

As part of the project, Mitsubishi Shipbuilding and marine transport company Shin Nihonkai Ferry also 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.

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