(Bloomberg) – In just two decades from now, half of all domestic ships that ply Japan’s coastal waters could be piloting themselves.
That is the ambitious goal of the Nippon Foundation, a public interest organization that supports the development of autonomous ships in the country that cross the ocean. Its goal is for unmanned ships to make up 50% of Japan’s local fleet by 2040. Backed by the foundation, a group that includes Japan’s largest shipping company, Nippon Yusen KK, plans to own a container ship. pilot from Tokyo Bay to Ise, a coastal city in central Mie Prefecture, in February. According to Nippon Yusen, the 380-kilometer trip will be the world’s first test of an autonomous ship in an area with heavy maritime traffic.
By 2030, the global market for autonomous shipping could be worth around $ 166 billion. “When it comes to ship automation, our mission is for Japan to lead the rest of the world,” Satoru Kuwahara, general manager of Nippon Yusen’s subsidiary, Japan Marine Science Inc., said in an interview Thursday. Kuwahara, he A ship captain himself, he says there is a real need for autonomous ships in Japan as the country’s workforce shrinks and ages rapidly. In the domestic tanker industry, for example, approximately 40% of the crew are 55 or older, according to a recent report. The Nippon Foundation estimates that taking into account factors such as artificial intelligence, which should improve efficiency, development of unmanned ships will have a positive impact of about 1 trillion yen (US $ 9 billion) for Japan’s economy in 2040. There are other foreseeable benefits as well, such as lower insurance premiums and improved safety, Kuwahara said.
Some studies on the safety of the shipping industry show that around 70% of maritime accidents are caused by human error. “Given the problem of shrinking Japan’s workforce, there is a growing need for these technologies to maintain security,” he said.
For the February test, information on everything from weather to radar data points will be collected and processed at a ground support center. Subsequently, the instructions will be sent to the ship. In the event of a disturbance, the vessel’s steering could be remotely controlled from the center.
Kuwahara says it is confident that such technology will be ready for practical use in 2025. The “immense challenge” will be to develop a regulatory environment and industry standards around autonomous shipping by then, it said. For now, Kuwahara and others are preparing for the 2022 test, running simulations at a tech hub east of Tokyo.
“We need this technology to be recognized, otherwise the actual implementation in society will not advance,” said Kuwahara. “We cannot fail in this first demonstration.”
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