From autonomous tug boats and research platforms to uncrewed military ships, vessels that can be remotely controlled look like they’re slowly, but surely, making their way as reliable alternatives for standard models.
Japan is the place where a highly advanced fleet operation center (FOC), specifically designed for managing crewless ships, will open the way for future autonomous ship operations. No less than 30 Japanese companies from various fields, including maritime transport and technology, have joined forces to establish a unique project.
Called DFFAS (Designing the Future of Full Autonomous Ship), this ambitious project aims to create a fully operable fleet of autonomous vessels. The first major step was completing this new FOC. Located in Makuhari, Chiba City, this control center is part of a more complex system that will be in charge of everything required for the operation of autonomous ships.
Apart from the state-of-the-art technology, the center will also include operators who will collect information from the autonomous ships, and connect it to the data available on shore. In addition to monitoring and analyzing the operational status of crewless ships, the FOC operators will also be able to navigate them remotely, in case of emergency.
The next step for the DFFAS project is to conduct the first demonstration, in February 2022. A 749 GT container vessel equipped with the project’s autonomous system will travel from Tokyo Bay to Ise Bay. The objective is to simulate the operation of an autonomous ship in congested waters, using a domestic vessel.
According to the NYK Line Group, one of the project’s initiators, autonomous ships could become the solution for crew shortages and, therefore, help support coastal shipping businesses. The DFFAS’s ultimate goal is to begin operating local crewless vessels by 2025. The Joint Technological Development Program for the Demonstration of Unmanned Ships, under the administration of the Nippon Foundation, is sponsoring DFFAS.