The Nippon Foundation has successfully deployed the Suzaku, a 95-meter, 749 metric ton container ship on a 790-kilometer round-trip autonomous voyage between Tokyo Bay and Matsusaka port in the city of Tsu, Mie. The Suzaku successfully automatically departed from Tokyo Bay on February 26 and crossed to a stretch of water out from the port of Matsusaka, a 20-hour one-way journey, before returning to Tokyo Bay on the morning of March 1. While the crew did engage manual override on a few occasions, the automated collision avoidance system activated 97.4% of the time on the outbound journey and 99.7% of the time on the return journey.
One significant feature of the trial was the utilization of a ground support station in Chiba. Described as being “like an airport control tower” and “an essential element in making autonomous shipping a commercial reality,” the station gathers meteorological and marine data, as well information on traffic volumes, and monitors operational status and engine room status, enabling control of the ship to be overridden remotely in an emergency. This was a truly comprehensive trial, complete with sea-to-ground communication links.
Around 500 ships traverse Tokyo Bay every day, making it 50% busier than the Singapore Strait and 10 times busier than the Panama Canal.