Large car ferry aces world’s longest autonomous sea trial

A Japanese consortium including shipping company Mitsui O.S.K. Lines (MOL) has completed a sea trial of autonomous sailing using a large commercial coastal car ferry, in a voyage from the Tomakomai Port, Hokkaido Prefecture to the Oarai Port, Ibaraki Prefecture.

Photo: MOL

The trial was conducted on February 6 and 7 as part of the Nippon Foundation’s MEGURI2040 unmanned ship project led by The Nippon Foundation.

Apart from MOL, the consortium in this trial comprises its two group companies Mol Ferry and MOL Marine & Engineering and partners Mitsui E&S Shipbuilding, Furuno Electric, Imoto Lines, and A.L.I. Technologies.

The test followed the actual commercial route of the ferry Sunflower Shiretoko, covering a distance of about 750km, the world’s longest distance for autonomous sailing, in about 18 hours, also a world record.

The partners successfully confirmed the development elements including the autonomous berthing and unberthing technology, the autonomous collision avoidance routing system, and the target visual image processing and ranging technology which functioned normally even during such a long voyage.

Since MEGURI2040’s inception in 2020, the consortium has conducted various elemental experiments to realize autonomous sailing. As with the coastal containership which succeeded in the sea trial of autonomous sailing on January 24-25, 2022, the sea trial using the car ferry was carried out after verifying features such as autonomous collision avoidance using a simulator owned by MOL Marine & Engineering and element tests on a real ship.

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The sea trial of the coastal car ferry followed the successful test of autonomous sailing with a coastal containership. The system used for autonomous sailing in the tests of these two vessels is of the same specification.

“Based on the success of these demonstrations, we believe that it was suggested that autonomous sailing might be possible on any ship by installing necessary equipment,” the consortium said.

At present, there are issues such as improving sensing technology and making collision avoidance routes even closer to the feeling of crew members and the consortium continually aims to reduce the workload on seafarers and ensure safe, secure marine traffic by integrating the knowledge gained through MEGURI2040 initiatives to realize autonomous sailing activities with AI technologies such as computer vision.

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