High-Speed Car Ferry Successfully Completes First Autonomous Voyage in Japan

The SOLEIL ferry during fully autonomous ship navigation systems demonstration test 6 photos
Photo: The Nippon Foundation
Large ferry navigates autonomously in JapanLarge ferry navigates autonomously in JapanLarge ferry navigates autonomously in JapanLarge ferry navigates autonomously in JapanLarge ferry navigates autonomously in Japan
Mitsubishi Shipbuilding and marine transportation company Shin Nihonkai Ferry have recently demonstrated what they claim to be the world's first fully autonomous navigation systems on a 222-meter (728-ft) car ferry. The ship has successfully completed a 240-km (149-mile) journey, navigating autonomously on the Iyonada Sea, Japan.
The recent demonstration was part of Meguri 2040, a project launched in February 2020 to accelerate the development of fully autonomous vessels. The large ferry, named SOLEIL, was equipped with the Super Bridge-X autonomous navigation system developed by Mitsubishi Shipbuilding.

It features an avoidance function that helps the ship go around any obstacles in its path and automatic berthing and unberthing, which SOLEIL used to turn and reverse. The vessel also included infrared cameras that allowed it to detect other ships, even in low visibility.

Moreover, it had a remote engine monitoring system, which the team used to keep an eye on the motor, and a complex cyber security system.

The demonstration test was carried out by Shin Nihonkai Ferry, which was also in charge of setting the ferry's system requirements. Using the autonomous navigation systems onboard, the 222-meter (728-ft) ship successfully traveled for 240 km (149 miles) from Shinmoji to Iyonada and achieved a top speed of 26 knots (30 mph/48 kph).

Currently, fault prediction and engine monitoring technologies are among the most challenging aspects of fully autonomous vessels. So, the companies are addressing these issues as well.

This recent demonstration marks a significant step toward safer coastal shipping. Naoki Ueda, Executive Vice President at Mitsubishi Shipbuilding, said that the company "will continue to develop technologies using the valuable knowledge gained to achieve safety and high quality service for passenger ferries."

Other companies are expected to showcase their autonomous systems as part of the Meguri 2040 too. The project will feature autonomous navigation systems and include platforms designed to protect navigation data utilized for onshore monitoring. Demonstrations are set to take place until later this year, in March.
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About the author: Florina Spînu
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Florina taught herself how to drive in a Daewoo Tico (a rebadged Suzuki Alto kei car) but her first "real car" was a VW Golf. When she’s not writing about cars, drones or aircraft, Florina likes to read anything related to space exploration and take pictures in the middle of nature.
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