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Weathernews to join first crewless ship trial run

Schedule for the implementation of autonomous ships. Schedule for the implementation of autonomous ships.

Weathernews has been selected as a member of the Designing the Future of Full Autonomous Ship Project (DFFAS), made up of 22 domestic companies who will collaborate on the Joint Technological Development Programme for the Demonstration of Unmanned Ships administered by the Nippon Foundation.

In 2021, this project will carry out field testing of crewless domestic container ships navigating over long distances through congested waters, working toward the commercialisation of autonomous ships by 2025. The organisers expect that successful field trials ahead of the rest of the world will lead to the world's first demonstration of the crewless operation of ships in congested waters and the early implementation of autonomous shipping, which will improve the industry's international competitiveness.

Weathernews is responsible for the development of a navigation planning system that combines artificial intelligence (AI) with weather and operational data to select the optimal route. This technology will also serve as the core of Weathernews' upcoming autonomous ship support service.

Cooperating in the development of a Route Planning System that uses AI to find the optimal route for ship navigation. this technology will also serve as the core of Weathernews' upcoming autonomous ship support service

The practical use of crewless vessels requires a comprehensive system that encompasses all of the functions needed to operate a ship, including functionality to deliver feedback from land to ship, and operation by remote control in case of emergency. To achieve this, 22 domestic companies will participate in the DFFAS Project, developing and implementing the systems needed for practical use, including automated navigation, land support, remote manoeuvring, and communication channels.

Weathernews is responsible for the development of the navigation planning system as part of the land support system. In order to achieve automatic navigation planning, the company will develop the following three technologies.

1. Optimal route selection with outstanding safety and economy

2. Unique meteorological and oceanographic analysis and prediction using physical models and machine learning

3. Ship performance estimation updated frequently from operational data

In developing these systems, Weathernews will use AI in combination with the analysis of weather models and operational results data from over 1 million voyages made using the company's services to further improve weather routing. The company also aims to achieve environmentally friendly ship operation through improved energy efficiency and optimising routing and engine speeds. In the future, this technology will also serve as the core of an autonomous ship support service provided by Weathernews.

Features of the DFFAS project

The DFFAS project has the following characteristics under the concept of "creating the future of crewless maritime autonomous surface ships — a grand design devised by various experts.”

a) A project structure that values the concept of open collaboration among 22 domestic companies that are responsible for creating the future of the Japanese shipping industry, cooperating together with various domestic and foreign experts.

 b) Development and demonstration of comprehensive system functions required for crewless maritime autonomous surface ships including remote operation in case of an emergency, automation of berthing/unberthing, operations in accordance with the approved route plan and action plan, and the monitoring of support functions from the fleet operation centre (including ship-shore data communication system).

Click here to see the full list of participating companies.

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    From a shoreside location at Portland Yacht Services, a Sea Machines operator commanded the SM300-equipped skimmer boat to perform the following capabilities:

    • Remote autonomous control from an onshore location or secondary vessel,
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    • Wireless, remote payload control to deploy onboard boom, skimmer belt and other response equipment.

    Sea Machines also discussed how to operate the skimmer in an unmanned autonomous mode, which enables operators to respond to spill events 24/7 depending on recovery conditions, even when crews are restricted. These configurations also reduce or eliminate exposure of crewmembers to challenging sea and weather, toxic fumes and other safety hazards.

    “Our operation of the world’s first autonomous, remote-commanded spill-response vessel is yet another significant industry first for Sea Machines,” said Michael G. Johnson, founder and CEO, Sea Machines. “But even more important is the fact that we’ve proven that our technology can be applied to the marine spill response industry – as well as other marine sectors – to protect the health and lives of mariners responding to spills. We are proud to support MSRC’s mission of response preparedness and to work alongside MARAD for these important demonstrations.”

    “MSRC is excited to work with Sea Machines on this new technology.  The safety of our personnel is the most important consideration in any response. Autonomous technology enhances safe operations,” said John Swift, vice president, MSRC.

    "This is the future of the maritime industry. It’s safer, it’s faster, it’s more cost-effective,” said Richard Balzano, deputy administrator, MARAD. “This technology is here and it will make you a believer. We are here because we want to help the maritime industry evolve. It’s about safety, the environment and reducing risk on the water.”

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