NYK tests again remote navigation of tugboat

Japanese shipping major Nippon Yusen Kaisha (NYK) and its group companies MTI Co. Ltd., Keihin Dock Co. Ltd., and Japan Marine Science Inc. (JMS) have completed a second test of the remote navigation of a tugboat as part of the Japanese government’s project aimed at enabling autonomous ship operations by 2025.

Within Tokyo Bay, a manned tugboat equipped with a remotely controlled system was operated remotely from the operation center in the city of Nishinomiya in Hyogo prefecture approximately 400 kilometers away.

For this test, NYK used a tugboat operated by Shin-Nippon Kaiyosha Corporation.

In the previous test in January carried out this year, the operator in the remote operation center used sensors and cameras installed on the tugboat to recognize surrounding conditions, created a route plan and action plan — collision avoidance route plan — for the remote control.

In the second trial, the companies conducted two tests to respond to malfunctions of equipment or ship-shore communication.

Test for verification of fallback operation

In the tests, a signal was sent remotely to the ship to stop as quickly as possible and automatically navigate at a reduced speed until the next waypoint to ensure ship safety functions or maintaining limited usage of the ship in the situation of troubles of equipment or ship-shore communication.

Image Courtesy: NYK

Test for optimisation of data communication amount

As explained, the purpose of this test was to confirm the optimization function of data communication amount depending on the available communication bandwidth for remote control.

To ensure stable remote maneuvering, the amount of communication needs to be automatically adjusted. For that reason, the transferring data amount of radar echo should be controlled according to available communication bandwidth so that it does not affect other data transmissions, according to NYK.

For remote control, it is necessary to monitor the position of the ship and nearby obstacles in real time, and communication interruption due to communication overload has to be avoided so that confirmation of this communication optimization function is indispensable, NYK added.

Next steps

NYK and its group companies plan to continue to improve the system using the accumulated knowledge from the two remote navigation tests. In addition, the companies intend to further collaborate with partners to realize remote control of large vessels.

Moreover, NYK said it will disseminate and develop the technologies for autonomous ships with crews and crewless autonomous ships.

Since FY2018, Japan has been promoting the Sea Trial Project on Remote Control Navigation to improve the environment and establish safety requirements necessary for autonomous ship operations.

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