Japan took another step forward with its efforts to develop and demonstrate remote navigation technology. NYK and its group companies MTI Co., Keihin Dock Co., and Japan Marine Science (JMS) recently conducted a second test of a remotely controlled tugboat operating in Tokyo Bay. 

The tests were conducted as a part of the Japanese government’s Sea Trial Project on Remote Control Navigation, a trial project that Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism launched in 2018 to establish the safety requirements necessary for the realization of autonomous ships. The goal is to realize autonomous ships by 2025.

During the tests, a tugboat operated by NYK’s Shin-Nippon Kaiyosha Corporation equipped with a remotely controlled system that collects, integrates, and analyzes information around the ship, in preparation of an action plan. The vessel is operated remotely from the operation center in the city of Nishinomiya which is approximately 250 miles away from the bay.

In January 2020. During the first test, the operator in the remote operation center used sensors and cameras on the tugboat to recognize surrounding conditions, created a route plan and action plan (collision avoidance route plan) for the remote control. In the second test, they expanded the operations, exploring the ability to respond to malfunctions of equipment or ship-shore communication.

The first text sought to verify the response functions to equipment malfunctions or interruptions of ship-shore communication. A remote signal was sent to the ship to stop as quickly as possible, and then to automatically navigate at a reduced speed to the next waypoint. The purpose was to ensure ship safety functions or the ability to maintain limited control of the ship if trouble occurred with the equipment or ship-shore communication.

For remote control, the company said that it is necessary to monitor the position of the ship and nearby obstacles in real-time. Communication interruption due to data overload has to be avoided and as such, it was important to test the communication optimization function.

The second test was to confirm the optimization function for data communications depending on the available communication bandwidth for remote control. To ensure stable remote maneuvering, the level of communication needs to be automatically adjusted. The amount of data being transferred from the radar needs to be controlled according to available communication bandwidth so that it does not affect other data transmissions. 

NYK reported that it obtained useful results in the second test of the remote navigation and that it will continue to improve the system using the accumulated knowledge from the two remote navigation tests conducted in 2020.