Japanese partnership completes trials of large ferry fitted with autonomous technology

Soleil (Photo: The Nippon Foundation)

The Nippon Foundation, Mitsubishi Shipbuilding, and local operator Shin Nihonkai Ferry have successfully completed a demonstration test of a fully autonomous ship navigation system on a large car ferry.

The trials were conducted on the Iyonada Sea from Shinmoji, Kitakyushuu City, using the 222-metre Ro-Pax ferry Soleil on Monday, January 17.

The demonstration was part of MEGURI 2040, a project promoting the development of fully autonomous vessels supported by The Nippon Foundation.

The test demonstrated a fully autonomous navigation system with autonomous port berthing and unberthing using turning and reversing movements and high-speed navigation of up to 26 knots. Other new technologies in the advanced fully autonomous operation system include sensors to detect other ships using infrared cameras, a remote engine monitoring system, and a sophisticated cybersecurity system.

The partners said the related developments will help provide benefits for coastal shipping such as improved safety, crew labour conservation, and cost reductions.

The demonstration test was conducted on a 240-kilometre route from Shinmoji in Northern Kyushu to Iyonada, a journey that takes approximately seven hours, at a maximum speed of 26 knots.

Soleil was equipped with a high-precision sensor image analysis system with infrared cameras that can detect other ships even in darkness, an 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 difficult even for manned vessels.

The project partners are also developing various other technologies 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.

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