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5 ways Japan is using digital technology to transform shipping

Digitalisation is steering the shipping industry in a new direction, some comforted by the increasing opportunities that it offers and others wary of the uncertainty that comes with it. One country embracing the waves of digitalisation is Japan. Here are five ways Japanese companies are using digital technology to deliver more efficient and safer shipping operations. 


{mprestriction ids="1,2"} 1. To improve safety and maintenance

jrcs microsoft jul 9

Japanese company JRCS, which supplies and maintains power management and automation control systems for the marine industry announced a collaboration with Microsoft last year to use mixed reality (MR) and artificial intelligence (AI) to improve safety and increase speed of maintenance. The aim is to see how Microsoft’s HoloLens MR headset and AI services on JRCS’ Azure cloud-based platform could be applied to the creation of remote training and remote maintenance solutions.

MR combines the real and virtual worlds by overlaying holograms (3-D virtual objects) in real spaces or on physical objects in front of the viewer’s eyes. Unlike virtual reality (VR) devices, MR devices like HoloLens enable the user to view and manipulate the holograms within a visible, real-world context.

The purpose is to provide training to merchant shipping and marine industry players including seafarers and land-based staff around the world. Microsoft language translation and sharing of MR spaces enables seafarers from all nationalities to train in equipment use or operations at any time.  

2. To design and build zero emission ships

Japan 2 jul 9

Above: The NYK Super Eco Ship 2050 concept design. Image courtesy of NYK. 

Japan is the third largest shipbuilding nation behind the Chinese and Korean economies. In 2017, these countries delivered 86 per cent of all CGT, with Japan representing 20 per cent of this. Japan’s Ministry of Land, Transport and Tourism has set a goal to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from international shipping by 30 per cent.

To meet and go beyond this target, Japanese company NKY Line has developed the concept ship NYK Super Eco Ship 2030 with MTI (NYK’s subsidiary technology institute), Elomatic (a marine consulting company in Finland), and Garroni Progetti S.r.l. (a ship designer in Italy). The purpose of the ship is to reduce CO2 emissions from ships by at least 69 per cent through advancements in hull remodelling, hull weight reduction, energy conservation, and digitalisation.

In November 2018, the Japanese company’s 2050 concept ship was introduced, which aims to make further improvements in energy efficiency through design and advanced digital technologies. Digital Twins are used to obtain access to shore-based expertise for the crew onboard, with several scenarios evaluated to optimise planned and corrective maintenance.  Find out more in this video

3. To develop digital cash for seafarers


Japanese company Nippon Yusen Kaisha (NYK) is exploring ways to use its own digital currency to make it easier for seafarers to manage, send and convert money into their local currencies. According to Bloomberg, NYK will work with banks to convert the money to local currencies. It will also be pegged to the US dollar. It has not yet been confirmed whether blockchain or a type of cryptocurrency will be used.

4. To deliver self-piloting ships

Japan 3 jul 9

Above: Intelligent Awareness System (IAS) in use. Image courtesy of MOL. 

In summer 2017, Japan announced that it would work on delivering a self-piloting ship by 2025. Shipping lines MOL and Nippon Yusen are involved in a research project that is looking at ways to use technology to reduce the risk of collision. Research around satellite communication, the Internet of Things (IoT), and artificial intelligence (AI) is continuing, with the end goal to use such technologies to gather data and plot the most fuel efficient and safest routes. According to the Nikkei Asian Review, the overall aim is to use smart ships to help predict onboard malfunctions and cut down on accidents at sea.

5. To monitor suspicious activity at sea


Japan announced last summer that it will start deploying artificial intelligence (AI) to monitor activities at sea and pinpoint any suspicious movements. Information will be automatically transmitted by radio from the Automatic Identification System (AiS) onboard ships and be analysed by the AI-based system. According to sources, the AI will be able to understand and learn information about the ships, such as their location and speed, enabling authorities to identify abnormalities that could be seen as suspicious.

The Japanese government is expected to start using AI-based technology from 2021 using vessels of the Self-Defence Forces.{/mprestriction}

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Digital Ship magazine provides the latest information about maritime satellite communications technology, software systems, navigation technology, computer networks, data management and TMSA. It is published ten times a year.


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