The DFFAS (Designing the Future of Full Autonomous Ship) project comprising 30 Japanese companies has completed the construction of a fleet operation centre (FOC) in Makuhari, approximately 25km west of central Tokyo, to provide onshore support for crewless maritime autonomous surface ships.
The DFFAS project is sponsored by Japan’s Joint Technological Development Programme for the Demonstration of Unmanned Ships under the administration of the Nippon Foundation, and includes shipping companies like NYK and Kinkai Yusen Kaisha, as well as tech providers such as SKY Perfect JSAT, Furuno, JRC, Tokyo Keiki and Weathernews.
The DFFAS project aims to provide a foundation for a domestic coastal shipping business supported by crewless ships, standardising the technology used and establishing supporting systems and infrastructure through open collaboration between stakeholders.
The new FOC is expected to act as a focal point within that system, supporting the functions required for operation of crewless ships.
The FOC will be staffed with operators providing shore-based support by collecting information from the ship and monitoring and analysing the operational status of the vessel. Additionally, the operator will be able to remotely navigate the vessel as required, in case of emergency.
The project partners plan to carry out a demonstration trial in February 2022 simulating the actual operation of an autonomous ship in congested waters using a domestic coastal container ship, before moving toward full-scale commercialisation of these autonomous ships by 2025.
In related news, DFFAS project partner NYK has also begun a trial of a prototype Automatic Ship Target Recognition System on one of its vessels, to evaluate its potential to provide automated collision avoidance support.
The technology, developed in Israel by Orca AI, can automatically recognise dangerous targets and other vessels that may be overlooked by the human eye, especially at night and in congested waters, using a camera unit that can automatically recognise targets and measure the distance to them in difficult any conditions.
Information obtained from AIS and onboard navigational equipment, including vessel names, distance, and time when the ship is closest to the target, can be superimposed in an integrated display on a tablet or touch-panel monitor for assessment by the crew onboard.
Surrounding images are also analysed using artificial intelligence (AI) on Orca AI’s server, which applies machine learning algorithms and then remotely updates the onboard software to improve the recognition rate through continuing use. In addition to the captured video, the navigational data is also sent to shore, allowing the ship’s situation to be monitored from land offices.