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Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, Ltd. (MOL) today announced that with their consortium members, they have jointly applied to the Nippon Foundation to fund demonstration voyages to test underlying technologies for autonomous sailing within fiscal year 2020.

In cooperation with Mitsui E&S Shipbuilding and Furuno Electric, the MOL Group has been developing technologies for autonomous sailing, and plan to conduct demonstration voyages of their autonomous sailing operation system, from unberthing to berthing. With the support from Nippon Foundation, the demonstration tests will start in 2020.

The demonstration voyages will be conducted with an MOL Ferry-owned/operated large-scale coastal ferry and a coastal containership owned by Imoto Corporation and operated by Imoto Lines, Ltd., using surrounding cognitive technology based on Furuno Electric-developed and owned sensors and Mitsui E&S-developed/owned ship handling for avoidance and auto berthing/unberthing technologies, after MOL Marine conducts autonomous functions using a simulator. In addition, mooring support technology using a drone, developed by Sekido, will be introduced in the demonstration voyage of the coastal containership.

MOL will oversee the entire program and conduct risk assessments, drawing upon its accumulated expertise in ship operations management.

Coastal shipping, the target of the program, is a key element of Japan’s logistics system, transporting about 40% of the nation’s domestic cargo and about 80% of basic industrial commodities on a ton-kilometer basis. However, the costal shipping sector is heavily dependent on an aging workforce.

MOL will develop technologies and move ahead with demonstration voyages using two vessels of different types — a 749-ton containership and a large (10,000-ton plus) car ferry. These are two of the major types of vessels involved in coastal shipping, and operate in a severe work environment. The company believes that autonomous sailing can address safety issues and reduce human errors, which contribute to about 70% of marine accidents.