Wednesday, May 25, 2022

World’s first fully autonomous ship navigation system tested on coastal ferry

The Nippon Foundation, Mitsubishi Shipbuilding Company, and the Shin Nihonkai Ferry Company have successfully completed a demonstration test of the world’s first fully autonomous ship navigation systems on a large car ferry. The demonstration was part of MEGURI 2040, a project promoting the development of fully autonomous vessels supported by The Nippon Foundation.

On July 1, 2021, the newly built SOLEIL ferry began navigating with an onboard crew compiling data for the development of a fully autonomous ship navigation system. This week’s run was the first one handled solely by that system. The 222-meter vehicle-carrying ferry has autonomously navigated a 240 km (149 miles) stretch of Japan’s Iyonada Sea from Shinmoji, Kitakyushu City, which takes approximately 7 hours, at a maximum speed of 26 knots (approximately 50 km/h).

The test vessel was equipped with 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 that are even difficult for manned vessels.

Infrared cameras detect obstacles and other vessels.
Infrared cameras detect obstacles and other vessels. Credit: Mitsubishi Heavy Industries

Other new technologies included in an advanced fully autonomous operation system include a high-precision sensor image analysis system with infrared cameras that can detect other ships even in darkness, 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.

According to the company, these developments will help resolve issues in coastal shipping, including improved safety, crew labor savings, cost reductions.

“This demonstration test greatly accelerated the development of fully autonomous ship navigation systems using many advanced technologies including artificial intelligence,” said Naoki Ueda, Executive Vice President, Mitsubishi Shipbuilding Co., Ltd. “We will continue to develop technologies using the valuable knowledge gained to achieve safety and high-quality service for passenger ferries, which play an important role in supporting marine transportation in the island nation of Japan.”

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