Hyundai’s autonomous ship is the first to undertake a transoceanic journey

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A main argument for autonomous vehicles is that they make roads safer by removing human error – by far the dominant cause of traffic accidents – from the equation.

By making ships autonomous, the shipping industry believes it could also make the seas safer and shipping cleaner and more efficient. well, one transoceanic journey powered by AI has brought it one step closer to realizing this vision of the future.

Navigating rough waters

Maritime transport is of enormous importance to the global economy — more than 80% of international trade (by volume) is by sea, mainly because it is more economical as goods to be transported over long distances by land or air.

There is more than 62,000 Ships in the world’s merchant fleets, and getting all of those ships where they need to be, when they need to be there is a complex endeavor – navigators need to consider weather conditions, the locations of other ships, port activity, and more to decide which routes and at what speed should be taken.

All cargo ships and tankers have been underway since June 14, 2022. Photo credit: Marine Traffic

If something disrupts this system, the impact can be huge – if the giant container ship Always given Stuck in the Suez Canal for six days in March 2021, caused months of supply chain problems and cost the maritime industry an estimated $10 billion a day.

Even more devastating than the economic impact, however, is the fact that one person died when the ship was liberated.

While incidents of this magnitude are not common, grounding and collisions between ships or ships and stationary objects such as oil rigs and bridges do occur regularly – in Japan, for example, on average 286 ship collisions yearly.

These accidents can not only cost money and sometimes lives, but also damage the environment — 62% of oil spills between 1970 and 2021 were caused by tanker collisions or groundings.

autonomous ships

How was the Case with the Ever Givenare ultimately blamed for most accidents at sea human errortherefore, the maritime industry is now developing ships capable of operating with greater autonomy.

These vessels are called “Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships(MASS) and in June 2019, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) — the UN agency that regulates shipping — approved guidelines for MASS trials.

Three months later, Japanese shipping company NYK Line conducted the world’s first MASS trial using these guidelines, letting an autonomous navigation system steer a giant ship during a two-day voyage from China to Japan.

“[The system] collected information about environmental conditions around the ship from existing navigation devices, calculated the risk of collision, automatically determined optimal routes and speeds that were safe and economical, and then automatically navigated the ship.” wrote NYK line.

autonomous ships

An example of the data analysis NYK’s system performed to determine the ship’s ideal course. Credit: NYK Line

Since then, several more MASS trials have taken place, and Avikus – a subsidiary of Hyundai Heavy Industries, the world’s largest shipbuilder – has now conducted the first, in which a large ship deployed an autonomous navigation system on an overseas voyage.

That ship, the Prism Courage, left a port in the Gulf of Mexico on May 1, passed through the Panama Canal, and reached a port in South Korea 33 days later.

AI route selection increased fuel efficiency by 7% and reduced CO2 emissions by 5%.

For about half of the trip, the ship was steered by an autonomous navigation system called HiNAS 2.0 – the AI ​​evaluated the weather, waves and the rest of the ship’s environment to determine the ideal route in real time and then directed the ship’s control systems to follow it .

HiNAS 2.0’s ability to detect other ships near the Prism Courage during the voyage has allowed it to avoid collisions more than 100 times, according to Avikus. AI route selection also increased fuel efficiency by about 7% and reduced CO2 emissions by about 5%.

Both the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) and the Korea Register of Shipping (KR) monitored the Prism Courage’s voyage in real time.

“Avikus’ autonomous navigation technology was very helpful in this ocean crossing test, particularly to maintain navigation routes, change directions autonomously and avoid nearby vessels,” said Young-hoon Koh, captain of the Prism Courage.

autonomous ships

The Prism Courage’s captain and several crew members examine HiNAS 2.0 during the voyage. Photo credit: Avikus

The final result

The IMO rates the degree of autonomy of a MASS on a scale starting with level 0 (no autonomy) and ending with level 4 (full autonomy). HiNAS 2.0 is a Level 2 system – that is equivalent to a self-driving car that still needs a backup driver behind the wheel.

As with autonomous cars, the speed with which the shipping industry approves fully autonomous ships (if it does) will depend in large part on how fast controller adapt to the technology. The fact that shipping is one international affair complicates this process as regulations can change between ports.

“We may not remove the person from the ship, but we will remove them from the bridge.”

Hendrik Busshoff

Some think ships are more likely to always have someone on board, as it would be easier to authorize than a ship without a crew, while still allowing shippers to reap most of the benefits of autonomous navigation technology.

“We may not remove the person from the ship, but we will remove them from the bridge and let them do more high-quality work and call the person when they are needed,” Hendrik Busshoff, product manager for autonomy at a maritime technology company Wärtsilä-Reise , said Wired in 2020.

Avikus hopes to play an important role in bringing autonomous navigation systems to ships at sea – it expects the ABS to certify HiNAS 2.0 based on Prism Courage’s journey and plans to start commercializing the technology before the end of 2022.

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About Christine Geisler

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