Autonomy is the new big thing, and Japan has set out to carry the torch in the marine industry. The country has increased its attempts to become a leading cluster in developing autonomous and unmanned ships, with intentions to make up to 50% of its domestic boats unmanned by 2040. It has so far tested the world’s first self-driving container ships, as well as a ferry and amphibious vehicles.
The affluent Nippon Foundation has supported the DFFAS (Designing the Future of Full Autonomous Ship) Project, which involves 22 Japanese enterprises working together on five main themes. The goal of DFFAS is to provide a business case for domestic coastal transportation. It predicts that by 2040, up to 50% of the country’s workforce will be unmanned, with 10% going unmanned within the decade.
One part of the project announced by the project’s lead, Japan Marine Science Inc., is to undertake the world’s first successful crewless maritime autonomous surface ship demonstration by 2025 and a demonstration trial of a domestic coastal cargo ship in Japanese seas.
Experts believe that focusing on local vessels makes sense since it decreases investment costs and risk while also ensuring that vessels conform to fewer international laws.
Ships may be less expensive than planes, but they emit a lot of pollution. Moreover, since ship fuel has more sulfur than fuel for vehicles, lesser ships do far greater environmental damage. However, the Nippon Foundation has sought to change this; the organization supports Japan’s development of autonomous boats, intending to have them make up half of the country’s local fleet by 2040.
Aside from environmental concerns, Japan’s aging population and low birth rates also contribute to increased automation. The country’s workforce is rapidly shrinking, which has a detrimental impact on the economy. As a result, the Japanese should automate as many job tasks as possible. According to the Nippon Foundation, more than half of Japanese ship crew members are above 50.
In conjunction with Misui OSK Lines Ltd, the foundation has conducted two autonomous ship tests, Mikage and Suzaku.
Japan isn’t the first country to test self-driving ships. The Yara Birkeland, a tiny electric container ship that began trials in Norway, is currently undergoing extra checks before being authorized for commercial ventures. In 2018, Rolls Royce and Intel announced a partnership to build autonomous ships with a system that supports ships navigating without human intervention.
Since many companies are working on autonomous shipping technology, the next priority should be to draught legislation for sailing vessels since they will not leave coastal waters until internationally agreed-upon SOPs exist.