Initiative to Realize Autonomous Sailing Ready to Start Demonstration Voyages

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~ Concluding Contract in R&D Grant Program Related to Unmanned Vessels with the Nippon Foundation ~

TOKYO—Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, Ltd. (MOL; President & CEO: Junichiro Ikeda) today announced that with the consortium members, MOL, two of its group companies, and other consortium members have jointly applied to the Nippon Foundation to fund demonstration voyages to test underlying technologies for autonomous sailing within fiscal year 2020.

In cooperation with Mitsui E&S Shipbuilding and Furuno Electric, the MOL Group has been developing technologies for autonomous sailing, and plan to conduct demonstration voyages of their autonomous sailing operation system, from unberthing to berthing. With the support from Nippon Foundation, the demonstration tests will start in 2020.

The demonstration voyages will be conducted with an MOL Ferry-owned/operated large-scale coastal ferry and a coastal containership owned by Imoto Corporation and operated by Imoto Lines, Ltd., using surrounding cognitive technology based on Furuno Electric-developed and owned sensors and Mitsui E&S-developed/owned ship handling for avoidance and auto berthing/unberthing technologies, after MOL Marine conducts autonomous functions using a simulator.  In addition, mooring support technology using a drone, developed by Sekido, will be introduced in the demonstration voyage of the coastal containership.

MOL will oversee the entire program and conduct risk assessments, drawing upon its accumulated expertise in ship operations management.

MOL is working to realize autonomous vessels to achieve two aims—further enhancement of safe operation by using new underlying technologies, and reduction of crewmembers’ workload.

Coastal shipping, the target of the program, is a key element of Japan’s logistics system, transporting about 40% of the nation’s domestic cargo and about 80% of basic industrial commodities on a ton-kilometer basis. However, the costal shipping sector is heavily dependent on an aging workforce.   

MOL will develop versatile technologies and move ahead with demonstration voyages using two vessels of different types — a 749-ton containership and a large (10,000-ton plus) car ferry. These are two of the major types of vessels involved in coastal shipping, and operate in a severe work environment. The company believes that autonomous sailing can address safety issues and reduce human errors, which contribute to about 70% of marine accidents.

MOL has moved ahead with advanced support of safe operation and reduction of its environmental impact, as set out in the “ISHIN NEXT – MOL SMART SHIP PROJECT -,” which began in November 2016, and aims to become customers’ first choice as a logistics partner by applying ICT technology to improve service quality and efficiency.

(Consortium M

(Consortium Members and Major Roles)

Company NameMajor Roles
Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, Ltd.Overall coordination, risk assessment                                                                                                             
Mitsui E&S Shipbuilding Co., Ltd.
(President: Tetsuro Koga; Headquarters: Chuo-ku, Tokyo)
Develop “judgement” and “operation” functions (Autonomous ship
handling for avoidance, autonomous ship handling in port, auto
berthing and un-berthing)
Furuno Electric Co., Ltd.
(President: Yukio Furuno; Headquarters: Nishinomiya-shi, Hyogo Prefecture)
Develop “recognition” function (Integration of cognitive sensors,
berthing support sensor)
Imoto Corporation (President: Takayuki Imoto; Headquarters: Kobe-shi, Hyogo Prefecture)Provide demonstration vessel and crewmembers, development of
operation plan
Sekido Co., Ltd. (President: Takayuki Oshita; Headquarters: Kunitachi-shi, Tokyo)Develop mooring support technology (Using drone to drop of a heaving line from wharf)
MOL Ferry Co., Ltd (President: Akio Ohe; Headquarters: Chuo-ku, Tokyo)Provide vessel for demonstration test and crewmembers, preparation
of vessel operation plan
MOL Marine Co., Ltd. (President: Toshikazu Inaoka; Headquarters: Minato-ku, Tokyo)Prepare simulation of autonomous ship handling for avoidance,
autonomous ship handling in port, auto berthing and un-berthing

(Outline of Demonstration Vessels)

VesselTypeRouteSchedule (Note 1)
Sunflower Shiretoko (owned by MOL Ferry)Coastal ferryOarai/ Tomakomai2020 ~ 2021
Mikage (owned by Imoto Corporation)Coastal containershipTsuruga/ Sakaiminato2021 ~ 2022 

(Note 1) The contract period is from February 15, 2020 to February 14, 2021. Availability of the program continuity after the contract period depends on the progress of the testing.

Sue Terpilowski
Author: Sue Terpilowski