This week in Japan, the world’s first fully-autonomous ship navigation system deployed a car ferry during a demonstration test. The demonstration took place using a 15,500 gross ton Ro-Pax ferry, spanning 730 feet, that traveled approximately 150 miles between Shinmoji and Iyonada in a 7-hour period. The vessel’s operating speed reached about 26 knots during the demonstration.

The vessel was first introduced into service in July 2021 and is equipped with high-precision sensor image analysis systems and infrared cameras to detect other ships (even in complete darkness). The vessel also has a navigation system with an avoidance function and automated port berthing/unberthing technology that can perform turning and reversing movements.

Mitsubishi Shipbuilding Co. crafted the vessel and used advanced technologies like artificial intelligence to navigate the autonomous journey. The company plans to continue to develop technologies in this space in order to achieve safe, high-quality service for passenger ferries, too. The vessel will need to also be equipped with technology to monitor motor conditions during normal operations with passengers aboard.

While there are still many issues to be resolved and improvements to be made, this voyage is a big step towards fully autonomous vessels entering the market much more commonly. These advancements will also hopefully lead to resolution of issues in coastal shipping such as safety, accidents, crew shortages, high crew labor costs, and extensive operational costs.