NYK and its group companies MTI Co. Ltd., Keihin Dock Co. Ltd., and Japan Marine Science Inc. (JMS) obtained useful results in the second test of the remote navigation of a tugboat as a part of the Japanese government’s Sea Trial Project on Remote Control Navigation* for the realization of autonomous ships by 2025.
Outline of Second Test
Within Tokyo Bay, a manned tugboat** equipped with a remotely controlled system was operated remotely from the operation center in the city of Nishinomiya in Hyogo prefecture approximately 400 kilometers away. In the previous test in January this year, the operator in the remote operation center used sensors and cameras equipped to the tugboat to recognize surrounding conditions, created a route plan and action plan (collision avoidance route plan) for the remote control. In this second test this time, the below two tests to respond to malfunctions of equipment or ship-shore communication were conducted.
(a) Test for verification of fallback operation
As shown in Figure 1, tests to confirm response functions to equipment malfunctions or interruptions of ship-shore communication were conducted. In the tests, a signal sent remotely to the ship to (1) stop as quickly as possible, and (2) automatically navigate at a reduced speed until the next waypoint, to ensure ship safety functions or maintaining limited usage of the ship in the situation of troubles of equipment or ship-shore communication.
(b) Test for optimization of data communication amount
The purpose of this test was to confirm the optimization function of data communication amount depending on the available communication bandwidth for remote control. To ensure stable remote maneuvering, the amount of communication needs to be automatically adjusted. For that reason, the transferring data amount of radar echo should be controlled according to available communication bandwidth so that it does not affect other data transmissions. For remote control, it is necessary to monitor the position of the ship and nearby obstacles in real time, and communication interruption due to communication overload has to be avoided so that confirmation of this communication optimization function is indispensable.
NYK and its group companies will continue to improve the system using the accumulated knowledge from the two remote navigation tests and will keep collaborating with partners to realize remote control of large vessels. In addition, we will disseminate and develop the developed technologies for autonomous ships with crews and crewless autonomous ships that we are working on.
A trial project that Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism has been promoting since FY2018 to improve the environment, including the establishment of safety requirements necessary for the realization of autonomous ships. Companies selected to participate in the sea trial project on remote control navigation include MTI Co., Ltd.; ClassNK (Nippon Kaiji Kyokai); National Institute of Maritime, Port and Aviation Technology; Ikous Corporation; NYK; Keihin Dock Co., Ltd.; Mitsubishi Shipbuilding Co., Ltd.; IHI Power Systems Co., Ltd.; BEMAC Corporation; SKY Perfect JSAT Corporation; Tokyo Keiki Inc.; Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation; NTT DoCoMo Inc., Japan Radio Co., Ltd.; Furuno Electric Co., Ltd.; and Japan Marine Science Inc.
A tugboat operated by the Shin-Nippon Kaiyosha Corporation, an NYK Group company, was used for this test.
To date, the NYK Group has been working with nautical instrument manufacturers and partners to develop a remotely controlled system that can support the vessel crew. Such a system would collect, integrate, and analyze information around the ship, prepare an action plan, and after the approval of operators at remote locations or on board, take action in accordance with the plan.
In accordance with the NYK Group’s medium-term management plan “Staying Ahead 2022 with Digitalization and Green,” the company has indicated its goal to integrate ESG principles into management strategies and is promoting activities that contribute to the achievement of the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) through the company’s business activities. Digital-technology use and technology-development efforts to realize the remote navigation of ships will contribute to the below goals.