The trial was carried out in two parts over five days from September 14 to September 16 inclusive between the port of Xinsha, China and the port of Nagoya, Japan. The second trial took place between the Japanese ports of Nagoya and Yokohama for a six hour period just before midnight on September 17 to the early morning of September 20.
Crew were aboard during the trial and performed “typical duties,” the company said.
Pure car and truck carrier Iris Leader
The ship, the Iris Leader (IMO 9748019) is a Panama-flagged pure car and truck carrier with 70,826 gross tons. Gross tonnage is a measure of space not weight; it measures the whole internal volume of a ship. The Iris Leader is 2015 built, has a length overall of just under 200 meters and a breadth of just under 35 meters (656 feet by 115 feet).
The vessel used the “Sherpa System for Real Ship Navigation”, developed in conjunction with Japan Marine Science Inc, to navigate both during the day and the night.
Data about the system’s performance in actual sea conditions was collected and monitored. The ship gathered navigation information, calculating collision risk and optimal route plans and speeds.
During the voyage
During the voyage, the system detected another vessel in its path and was able to safely move around it before returning back to its optimally planned route.
NYK said it will analyze the data and will continue to develop the system. The company added that the technology verified by this trial will also be used on coastal vessels.
The company commented that “using data and experience gained through this trial but not obtainable through onshore simulators, NYK was able to ensure the feasibility of the SSR and its benefit for safe and optimal operations. This trial was a big step toward realizing NYK’s goal of manned autonomous ships”.
It further added that the SSR system can become a “basic technology for remote and unmanned navigation”.
Autonomous navigation and NYK
NYK has been exploring autonomous navigation for some time, since at least July 2016. Back then it was selected by Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism to take part in a variety of studies. One of those research projects was a study on collision risk judgement and the autonomous operation of vessels in conjunction with MTI, Japan Marine Science, the National Maritime Research Institute, Furuno Electric, Japan Radio and Tokyo Keiki Inc.
The purpose of the study was to develop functions that would help with collision avoidance risk, remote operations and also devices related to augmented reality in respect of nautical instrumentation.
Over a year later, NYK reported it had made progress in developing functions to avoid a collision. NYK had gained data on how expert human navigators avoid collisions by using a ship-handling simulator at Japan Marine Science.
“Usually, officers make a prediction, a judgment of the risk of collision based on their own experience, but each person’s sense of danger differs. The usage of accumulated data to develop common standards will help officers to appropriately judge risk and prevent collisions,” NYK said in 2017.
In 2018, the company announced it was developing a method of automatic collision avoidance using a traffic simulation program. The research would use data gathered from the perceptions of sea captains to continuously calculate collision risk and then auto-set route and speed. A test date was set for mid-2019, which has now been carried out.
Meanwhile, the company also announced back in July last year that it was investigating artificial intelligence for navigation support. This research program would seek to train an AI through “deep reinforcement learning”. This is a method in which a ship’s navigation computer learns how to behave by carrying out “a vast number of voyage simulations” in a variety of situations. The AI will be connected to a ship handling simulator to see how it behaves. A sea trial of the system with an actual ship is expected in 2021.
Earlier this year, in June, NYK’s research subsidiary, MTI joined “One Sea” an industry alliance focused on developing autonomous shipping. Members of One Sea include ABB, Cargotec, Ericsson, Finnpilot Pilotage, Inmarsat, Kongsberg, Tieto and Wartsila.
NYK – a maritime giant
NYK is a giant of the commercial maritime world. It operates a fleet of about 792 vessels (as at March 31, 2019). Its fleet included 118 car carriers, 357 dry bulkers (various sizes) and 63 container ships along with a variety of other ocean going ships such as multi-purpose carriers, liquefied natural gas carriers, wood chip carriers and many more.
In the 2018 fiscal year the company generated 1,829.3 billion Japanese Yen (US$16.83 billion); however, it made a loss of minus 44.5 billion Japanese Yen (US$409.4 million).