The Japanese government approved a joint demonstration project backed by Mitsui OSK Lines (MOL) and others to test automated berthing, collision avoidance and remote monitoring systems with the goal of bringing autonomous vessels into service by 2025.
MOL announced its participation in the project a week after the 25 July decision by Japan's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transportation and Tourism, which, it said, “aims to achieve practical use of autonomous vessels by 2025” based on a target set by the Japanese government in 2017.
Several months ago, MOL and Rolls-Royce's commercial marine division signed a contract to partner in real-world tests of an intelligent awareness (IA) system on seagoing vessels. Kongsberg purchased the Rolls-Royce commercial marine division that developed the IA technology in a £500M (US$662M) deal in early July. Tests of the technology have been underway since late March 2018 on the Japanese passenger ferry Sunflower.
A statement from MOL referred to autonomous shipping's ability to “significantly reduce” human errors and accidents while also “reducing the workload for mariners”.
“Human errors account for 80% of marine accidents, and since automated and autonomous operations of vessels can significantly reduce human errors, they have the potential to make a great contribution to reducing marine accidents,” the statement said.
“Furthermore, autonomous operations hold great promise in reducing the workload for mariners and represent a fundamental change in ocean transport.”
MOL will partner in the project with the Mitsui E&S Shipbuilding (MES-S) arm of the Mitsui Group, Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology (TUMST), and Akishima Laboratories (a division of MES-S).
Berthing and unberthing are some of the most difficult phases of ship operation, according to the group, and the demonstration project will use seagoing vessels to test and improve autonomous technologies.
During the 2018 fiscal year, the group will conduct demonstration tests using TUMST's training ship Shioji Maru. In 2019 tests will take place on a larger, unnamed domestic ferry vessel.
The project will leverage the MOL smart ship project's environmental and safety technologies, MES-S Group’s ship operation dynamic positioning and control technology and TUMST’s academic knowledge of autonomous ship operations.
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