MOL Sets World Records For Autonomous Navigation Using Large Commercial Car Ferry

Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, together with its two group companies and the following consortium partners, announced the completion of a successful sea trial of autonomous sailing using a large commercial coastal car ferry, in a voyage from the Tomakomai Port, Hokkaido Prefecture to the Oarai Port, Ibaraki Prefecture. The trial was conducted on February 6 and 7 as part of the Nippon Foundation’s MEGURI2040 unmanned ship project.

The test followed the actual commercial route of the ferry Sunflower Shiretoko, covering a distance of about 750km, the world’s longest distance for autonomous sailing, in about 18 hours, also a world record.

The significance about this test is the confirmation of the development elements “the Autonomous Berthing and Unberthing Technology”, “the Autonomous Collision Avoidance Routing System”, and “the Target Visual Image Processing and Ranging Technology” which functioned normally even during such a long voyage.

Sunflower Shiretoko, the large coastal car ferry used for the trial of autonomous sailing
Sunflower Shiretoko, the large coastal car ferry used for the trial of autonomous sailing | Image Credits:

Sunflower Shiretoko, the large coastal car ferry used for the trial of autonomous sailing | Image Credits: MEGURI2040’s inception in 2020, the consortium has conducted various elemental experiments to realize autonomous sailing. As with the coastal containership which succeeded in the sea trial of autonomous sailing on January 24-25, 2022, the sea trial using the car ferry was carried out after verifying features such as autonomous collision avoidance using a simulator owned by MOL Marine & Engineering Co., Ltd. and element tests on a real ship.

The sea trial of the coastal car ferry followed the successful test of autonomous sailing with a coastal containership. The system used for the autonomous sailing in the tests of these two vessels is the same specification and based on the success of these demonstrations, we believe that it was suggested that autonomous sailing might be possible on any ship by installing necessary equipment.

MOL Autonomous navigation success
Image Credits:

At present, there are issues such as improving sensing technology and making collision avoidance routes even closer to the feeling of crew members and the consortium continually aims to reduce the workload on seafarers and ensure safe, secure marine traffic by integrating the knowledge gained through MEGURI2040 initiatives to realize autonomous sailing activities with AI technologies such as computer vision.

Consortium members and its main roles

Company name Main roles
MOL Overall coordination, risk evaluation
Mitsui E&S Shipbuilding Co., Ltd.
(President: Isamu Funazu, Headquarters: Chuo-ku, Tokyo)
Development of “Judgement” and “Ship Operation” functions
(Automated collision avoidance routing, automated ship operation in port, automated berthing/unberthing operation)
Furuno Electric Co., Ltd.
(President: Yukio Furuno; Headquarters: Nishinomiya-shi, Hyogo Prefecture)
Development of “Cognitive” function
(Integration of information from sensors during navigation and at berthing)
Imoto Lines, Ltd.
(President: Takayuki Imoto; Headquarters: Kobe-shi, Hyogo Prefecture)
Provide test ship and seafarers, develop ship operation plan.
A.L.I. Technologies, Inc.
(President: Daisuke Katano; Headquarters: Minato-ku, Tokyo)
Development of mooring support technology
(Throwing a heaving line from the ship to the pier using an unmanned drone)
MOL Ferry Co., Ltd.
(President: Naotoshi Omoto; Headquarters: Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo)
Provide test ship and seafarers, develop ship operation plan.
MOL Marine & Engineering Co., Ltd.
(President: Takashi Nakajima; Headquarters: Minato-ku, Tokyo)
Create simulation program of collision avoidance navigation/ berthing/unberthing for testing automated function of those scene.

Outline of the Sunflower Shiretoko

  • Gross tonnage: 11,410t
  • Length: 190m
  • Width: 26.4m
  • Capacity (Passengers): 154 persons
  • Capacity (vehicles): Heavy-duty trucks: 160/Passenger cars: 62


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