The Nippon Foundation, Mitsubishi Shipbuilding, part of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Group and Shin Nihonkai Ferry have completed a demonstration test of what is claimed to be the world’s first fully autonomous ship navigation systems on a large car ferry.
The trials were conducted on the ‘Soleil’ in the Iyonada Sea out of Shinmoji, Kitakyushuu City, on 17th January.
This demonstration was part of MEGURI 2040, a project promoting the development of fully autonomous vessels, supported by The Nippon Foundation.
It involved a fully autonomous navigation system being fitted on the 222 m long ferry, with autonomous port berthing and unberthing involving turning and reversing movements and high-speed navigation at up to 26 knots.
Other new technologies included sensors to detect other ships using infrared cameras, a remote engine monitoring system and a sophisticated cyber security system. These advances in fully autonomous ship navigation are seen as a significant step toward safer and more efficient coastal shipping, the Japanese partners said.
Fully autonomous ship navigation R&D is intended to address crew shortages and accident prevention, plus other operations. This is also expected to become a ‘future industry’ through which Japan can demonstrate its advanced technologies in areas including ICT, AI and image analysis technology, Mitsubishi said.
The Nippon Foundation launched the MEGURI 2040 fully autonomous ship navigation project in February, 2020 with the support for five consortia, which will all be conducting demonstration tests to verify their fully autonomous navigation system concepts between January and March, 2022
The newly built ‘Soleil’ began operating with an on board crew on 1st July, 2021, compiling data towards the development of a fully autonomous ship navigation system.
Mitsubishi Shipbuilding was responsible for the integration of the entire system while Shin Nihonkai Ferry was involved in setting the vessel’s system requirements and conducting the demonstration test.
The test was conducted on the 240 km route from Shinmoji (Northern Kyushu) to Iyonada, which takes about seven hours, at a maximum speed of 26 knots.
‘Soleil’ was fitted 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 advanced automated port berthing/unberthing operation system that can perform turning and reversing movements, which are difficult even for crewed vessels.
One of the biggest issues on a fully automated vessel is fault prediction. As a result, enhanced engine monitoring technologies that monitor motor conditions are also being developed and tested.
Various other technologies are being developed essential to the promotion of fully autonomous navigation, including platforms for advanced data security to protect the navigation data used for onshore monitoring and support.