Successful Trial of Autonomous Ship

A large ferry, named 'Soleil', has recently completed an autonomous voyage. Soleil became the first vessel of over 200m in length to attempt a fully autonomous voyage, including auto-berthing, at speeds of up to 26 knots.

The trial was carried out in collaboration with Shin Nihonkai Ferry, Mitsubishi Shipbuilding and the Nippon Foundation. Measuring 223m in length and weighing in at 15,500 metric tonnes, Soleil completed a 240km return voyage from Shinmoji port out into the Iyonada sea. Soleil is licensed to carry up to 268 people along with 30 cars and 154 trucks on its dedicated vehicle deck.

Built as a 'smart ferry', Soleil is owned by Shin Nihonkai and is part of the Nippon Foundation's Meguri 2040 autonomous shipping project. The vessel was deployed on the route in July 2021 and has been collecting data in preparation for the autonomous voyage ever since.

Created by Mitsubishi Shipbuilding, Soleil's state-of-the-art automatic navigation system is designed to detect potential collisions with other vessels and obstacles before making manoeuvres to avoid them. The system, which uses radar, automatic identification and target image analysis via infrared cameras, also enables the ship to execute the reversing and turning required to automatically berth and de-berth.

Soleil's 240km voyage took around five and a half hours, during which time it sailed past several tankers and fishing vessels that operate in the area. The vessel's revolutionary navigation system enabled Soleil to successfully avoid ten other vessels while travelling at speed.

The auto-berthing function of Soleil was tested using a virtual berth out at sea as, unlike the cruising phase of the voyage, berthing involves much more complicated manoeuvring procedures. Using information provided by a LiDAR based proximity system, the vessel's thrusters, rudders and propellers are activated by artificial intelligence to perform the complex procedure of berthing. Though strong winds made conditions challenging, Soleil passed the virtual test with 100% success.

The autonomous navigation system was not the only thing being tested on Soleil's trial voyage: new systems that detect fuel leaks and remotely monitor the ship's engines and electric motors were also tested successfully. Dealing with any anomaly that may manifest itself during an autonomous voyage can be challenging and these monitoring systems make it possible to deliver targeted maintenance.

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