Autonomous ships in the future — MOL conducts onboard test of new technology

Sarah Carter

Sarah Carter · 27 September 2018


Mitsui O.S.K. Lines (MOL) has announced the company, along with U.K.-based Rolls-Royce Marine jointly conducted a demonstration test on a ferry equipped with the Intelligence Awareness System (IAS).

The ferry, operated by MOL Group company Ferry Sunflower serves Japan's Seto Inland Sea route.

MOL is aiming for safer and more efficient vessel operation and takes a proactive stance on research and development of autonomous ships.

Autonomous sailing requires underlying technologies such as advancement and automation of watch keeping, remote and automated ship operation (automatic collision avoidance while underway), automatic docking/undocking, remote monitoring of machinery and equipment, cargo, and so on, and automatic telecommunication among vessels. This project focuses on research related to advancement of watch keeping from the bridge.

The project team verified the system's performance such as detecting debris and other obstacles and its data fusion capabilities by conducting the demonstration test in the Seto Inland Sea, one of world's most congested waterways, where general merchant ships, pleasure boats, fishing boats, many other vessels come and go.

The team received positive comments from the crewmembers, such as "We can expect more reliable watch keeping from the bridge." The test also led to an idea for an advanced user interface, which can provide information with greater precision.

The technology will be used in new sensors for nautical instruments such as ship radar. The goal of the project is that it allows detection of ships sailing nearby as well as obstacles by integration and analysis of the data obtained, and swift provision of accurate ship operation support information to officers onboard immediately.

And, in the future, by integrating data such as weather and route information in the sea area where the ship is in operation, the AI system can detect obstacles with greater accuracy and draw upon advanced ergonomics to provide a more effective user interface for crewmembers.

The companies believe this system will help to create the fundamental technology for autonomous navigation, an area where MOL is focusing on as it strives for continual advances in operating safety and efficiency.

MOL plans to continuously accumulate data on the sea and use it to generate practical improvements in watch standing performance that make the system suitable for navigation in the Seto Inland Sea, while upgrading its performance in adverse weather.

MOL continually promotes its R&D project, "ISHIN NEXT - MOL SMART SHIP PROJECT -," and takes a proactive stance in moving ahead to develop and introduce technologies that will contribute to reducing environmental impact and ensuring safe, reliable transport services.

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