First autonomous vessels already sailing in Japan
The naval sector continues to make progress in overcoming the challenges it faces in the 21st century. And two of the most important are the reduction of the accident rate and the lack of qualified personnel. In the face of these challenges, autonomous technology vessels arrive ready to reduce the number of accidents and adapt to the new reality of the sector.
Large autonomous vessels have already begun trials in Japan. The technology was tested earlier this year on two ferries and a container ship. We tell you about it.
Soleil ferry, the world's first vessel to make a 100% autonomous voyage
Since February 2020, The Nippon Foundation has been hard at work developing the MEGURI 2040 program, which aims to develop autonomous technology for maritime navigation.
The first result has been presented this January 17, 2022, when the Japanese Ferry Soleil became the first vessel in the world to make a fully autonomous voyage. Including departure from and entry to the dock. In total, the Soleil traveled the 240 kilometers between the ports of Shinmoji and Iyonada in seven hours.
This is a vessel for transporting passengers and vehicles that measures 222 meters in length and is capable of cruising at a top speed of 26 knots (about 50 km/h). To achieve autonomous driving, it uses a range of advanced technologies:
- A high-precision sensor image analysis system.
- Infrared cameras capable of detecting other vessels even in total darkness.
- The SUPER BRIDGE-X automated ship navigation system that performs automatic avoidance maneuvers and offers an advanced automated docking/docking function.
Thanks to this technological deployment, the Soleil is able to perform on its own turning and reversing movements that are complex maneuvers even for manned vessels.
To ensure maximum safety and reliability, the Soleil has spent six months sailing along this route with an expert crew. In this way the system has had the opportunity to collect numerous data.
The test was successfully repeated on February 6 and 7 by the ferry Sunflower Shiretoko, a vessel measuring 190 meters in length and 26.4 meters in beam. It traveled between the prefectures of Hokkaido and Ibaraki, covering some 870 kilometers in 18 hours.
Mikage, the first autonomous freighter
On the other hand, the world's first autonomous container freighter made its debut on January 24 and 25. The ship is called Mikage, and the journey was about 300 km, the distance separating the ports of Tsuruga in Japan's Fukui Prefecture, and the port of Sakai, in Tottori Prefecture.
The Mikage is a container ship initially built in 2015 that has the capacity to carry 194 TEU. Its dimensions are 96 meters long by 14 meters wide.
The operation confirmed the good performance of the autonomous navigation system, which includes accurate understanding of the ship's location, wind, tides and currents. The Mikage demonstrated great maneuverability, including acceleration and deceleration, and full respect for navigation rules.
In this case, a drone was used to moor the ship at the port of arrival and assisted in the process of pulling a line to the dock.
Three key autonomous technologies
Although all three vessels were crewed throughout the voyage, the crew was not dedicated to the actual navigation. Prior to making this maiden voyage, a safety verification test was conducted last October using its 3D simulator.
These three pioneering tests have served to confirm the development of three key technologies for the autonomous ships: autonomous docking and undocking technology, autonomous collision avoidance routing, and visual target ranging and imaging technology. To this end, the ships are equipped with sensors, infrared cameras, LiDAR, satellite information, a remote engine camera monitoring system and a sophisticated cybersecurity system.
Japan, pioneer of autonomous navigation
Coastal shipping is key to Japan's logistics system, which transports around 40% of the country's cargo and 80% of its industrial commodities. With this commitment to R&D in the field of autonomous shipping, Japan aims to once again be at the forefront of information and communications technology, artificial intelligence and image analysis technology.
By 2040, The Nippon Foundation has set itself the ambitious goal that half of the Japanese coastal fleet will be autonomous vessels.