Japanese shipping company NYK has conducted the world’s first maritime autonomous surface ships (MASS) trial, making a big step toward realizing its target of manned autonomous ships for safer operations and reducing crew workload.

Iris Leader, a large NYK-operated PCTC having a gross tonnage of 70,826 tons, was navigated day and night using the Sherpa System for Real ship (SSR) navigation system during the period from 14 to 17 September from Xinsha, China, to the port of Nagoya, Japan, and then from the port of Nagoya to the port of Yokohama, Japan, from 19 to 20 September. Crew performed typical duties during the navigations, which included Japan’s coastal area but excluded bays.

During the trial, which took place from September 14-20, the ship navigated from Xinsha, China to the port of Nagoya, Japan, followed by the port of Yokohama, Japan, using the Sherpa System for Real ship (SSR) navigation system, which calculates optimal ship routing based on environmental conditions.

“During the trial, the SSR’s performance in actual sea conditions was monitored as it collected information on environmental conditions around the ship from existing navigational devices, calculated collision risk, automatically determined optimal routes and speeds that were safe and economical, and then automatically navigated the ship,” NYK explained in a statement. “Using data and experience gained through this trial but not obtainable through onshore simulators, NYK was able to ensure the feasibility of the SSR and its benefit for safe and optimal operations.”

Meanwhile, the crew performed typical duties during the navigation, which included parts of Japan’s coastal areas.

NYK says it will analyze the data collected during the voyage and continue to develop the SSR system.

According to NYK, the trial was conducted in accordance with the IMO’s Interim Guidelines for sound Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) operations.

The IMO Maritime Safety Committee in June adopted the first endorsed a framework which included preliminary definitions of MASS and degrees of autonomy, as well as a methodology for conducting exercises and a plan of work. The endorsement was described as the IMO’s first steps to address autonomous ships.

In a statement, NYK said it believes manned autonomous ships could make for safer operations and a reduction in crew workload.

Watch the video from the test:

Video Courtesy: NYK

NYK now plans to analyze the data and continue to develop the SSR into a more advanced navigation-support system by making adjustments to the difference between the optimal course derived by the program and that determined by professional human judgment.

The SSR verified by this trial would also be applied to future coastal ships, which currently face serious crew shortages, according to the company.