FEATURE | The ROBOSHIP project: a new autonomous navigation system under development in Japan

Urban Launch 1 (Photo: Mitsubishi)
Urban Launch 1 (Photo: Mitsubishi)

A partnership formed by Japanese firms that include Mitsubishi Shipbuilding, joint venture company e5 Lab, and vessel operator Tokyo Cruise Ship Company recently completed conducting proof-of-concept tests of a new autonomous navigation system for coastal vessels.

The tests are being performed under the ROBOSHIP Joint Value Creation Project, an inter-business endeavour led by e5 and launched in August 2020. The project is centred on the demonstration of a remote controlled vessel and a vessel equipped with collision avoidance technology with the aim of promoting the development and widespread adoption of a new type of navigational support system for coastal vessels of various sizes and applications.

Large-scale testing completed

The project is a collaborative effort between e5 Lab, 22 companies, classification society ClassNK, and even firms outside the shipbuilding and marine transport field. Mitsubishi Shipbuilding, with assistance from related sections within the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) Group, has provided maritime-related engineering services, support for marine vessel remote control/autonomous navigation, and system integration for the vessel propulsion units.

As part of the tests, a navigation support system with functions including route planning, course control, vessel speed control, and collision avoidance has been installed in Urban Launch (pictured), a catamaran sightseeing vessel operated by Tokyo Cruise Ship Company for conducting day trips in Tokyo Bay and other areas. In addition, a remotely operated unmanned surface vessel (USV) developed by MHI has also been made available, and the two vessels were used to demonstrate the system's collision avoidance capability. The large-scale, proof of concept (POC) tests were carried out in the sea off Toyosu in the eastern part of the Tokyo metropolitan area on November 11 and 12, 2020.

The tour boat and the USV were modified to be powered by batteries that were originally developed for use in electric cars. The use of batteries, which also boast shore charging capability, was in fulfillment of the project's goal of operations with reduced emissions.

Multi-tiered trials program

The initial tests using the two vessels covered telecommunications as the technology also utilises high-speed broadband connectivity between the vessels themselves and shore-based operators' stations. Future tests will focus on energy efficiency, emissions reductions, the use of AI, and other features of the autonomous sailing sensors and equipment.

Other contributors to the project include Mitsui OSK Lines, Furuno, Toshiba, weather monitoring service provider ClimaCell, HVAC company Daikin, and propulsion specialist Nakashima, which also introduced a specialised app that allows the operators to use smartphones or any other mobile devices for monitoring the performance and condition of the testbed vessels' propellers.

The project partners said that they hope to make any insights learned from the ROBOSHIP project available not only within the Japanese maritime industry but also to other markets, starting with Asia and subsequently the rest of the world.

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Baird Maritime / Work Boat World