Large vehicle-carrying ferry makes first-ever autonomous run in Japan
In what is being described as a world-first, a 222-meter (728-ft) vehicle-carrying ferry has autonomously navigated a 240-km (149-mile) stretch of Japan's Iyonda Sea. The vessel even performed the docking procedures on its own.
Taking place this Monday (Jan. 17), the demonstration of the Smart Coastal Ferry project incorporated technology developed by the Mitsubishi Shipbuilding Company and the Shin Nihonkai Ferry Company, which was utilized on the latter firm's Soleil ferry. The ferry project is in turn part of The Nippon Foundation's larger Meguri 2040 autonomous ship navigation development project.
The Soleil first entered service on July 1st of last year, piloted by a human crew. As it repeatedly made the 240-km/7-hour trip between the localities of Shinmoji and Iyonada, its Super Bridge-X autonomous navigation system compiled data on the route. This week's run was the first one handled solely by that system, which took the ferry up to a top speed of 26 knots (30 mph or 48 km/h).
Along with GPS functionality, the navigation system also utilizes an array of infrared cameras to detect and avoid other ships (day or night), an engine monitoring system to ensure that things keep running smoothly, and an automated berthing/unberthing system. The latter turns and reverses the vessel, allowing it to dock at and disembark from the two ports.
Mitsubishi has stated that the development of such technologies should help increase maritime safety, reduce crew labor requirements, and reduce operating costs. Demonstrations from other Meguri 2040 member groups will be taking place throughout January and March.
Source: Mitsubishi Heavy Industries