The trial was performed on SK Shipping's ultra-large LNG carrier known as Prism Courage — a massively sprawling vessel of 180,000 square meters. The voyage took Prism Courage from Freeport on the southern coast of the Gulf of Mexico on May 1, through the Panama Canal, across the Pacific Ocean before finally arriving at the Boryeong LNG Terminal in South Chungcheong Province in South Korea 33 days later.
The route was 12,427 miles or 20,000 kilometers long, with half of the route (around 10,000 kilometers) being autonomously navigated by Avikus's AI-powered HiNAS. Officials from the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) and the Korea Register of Shipping (KR) monitored the voyage to verify the performance, reliability and stability of the HiNAS technology.
HiNAS successfully demonstrated the capability for Level 2 Autonomous Navigation for ships during this trial. Level 1 autonomous navigation technology aid human navigators in the recognition and judgement of the maritime situation, while Level 2 autonomous navigation technology can control, steer and operate the ship directly in real time, in addition to the Level 1 capabilities of recognition and judgement.
During the trial, HiNAS was able to determine the optimal navigational routes and speeds based on Hyundai Global Service's Integrated Smartship Solution (ISS). Its AI successfully recognized the real-time seafaring situation, including the weather, wave heights and proximity to other ships and accurately recognized the locations of nearby ships to avoid collision more than 100 times.
The trial was deemed a success in autonomous transoceanic ship navigation, with Avikus further securing orders for installation of its HiNAS autonomous navigation solution on 23 vessels, including container ships and LNG carriers, from SK Shipping and Sinokor Merchant Marine.
According to Acute Market Reports, the autonomous navigation ships and related equipment market is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 12.6 percent, reaching USD 235.7 billion in 2028. For a market opportunity of this scale, what does the success of this autonomous transoceanic voyage signify for the future of the maritime industry?
The Covid-19 pandemic has all but assured us that regardless of which virus strikes next, industries will need to be responsive to pandemic curbs and resilient to manpower availability challenges. Due to the international nature of shipping, the lack of global standards in quarantine procedures and immigration restrictions for seafaring crew proved challenging for crew change operations, resulting in overworked crew and further exacerbating workforce shortage in the shipping industry.
The need to solve all these workforce challenges has spurred research and development in all forms of autonomous and unmanned operations where possible, from autonomous buildings, to dark factories, to autonomous public transport. Autonomous shipping is no exception.
While it is still inconclusive whether the Avikus trial signify the readiness of truly unmanned ocean-faring ships, the adoption of autonomous navigation technology will certainly lead to a reduced crew size onboard ships. This can tremendously mprove working hours and rotation, leading to better mental and physical health for crew members.
Every year, the shipping industry generate more than 1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emission into the atmosphere, contributing to around 3% of all greenhouse gas emissions.
To this end, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) spearheaded a strategic initiative in 2018 that targets to reduce CO2 emission by at least 40% by 2030 and 70% by 2050. This initiative hopes to achieve the reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% in 2050.
The 10,000-km HiNAS navigation trial saw benefits in terms of environmental sustainability for the shipping industry. By optimizing the shipping route and navigation parameters, HiNAS was able to reduce fuel consumption by 7% and greenhouse gas emissions by 5% — benefits which can be scaled up with more efficient autonomous ship designs.
According to data collected during the period of 2014-2019, there is an average of around 900 shipping accidents per year, leading to at least 1,030 human injuries and 82 lives lost annually. This is before considering commercial, ecological, environmental and economic damages due to the accidents.
Human error is one of the major causes of maritime accidents, from cognition errors, to bad decision-making to simply fatigue from overworking or inadequate rest.
Autonomous ships can have limited or no crew onboard, thus considerably reducing the possibility of human errors. In addition to removing human causal factors, it also reduces the risk of injuries or deaths to the maritime crew, who may need to support the autonomous operations directly or indirectly.
With navigational optimization and little or no crew onboard, autonomous ships can achieve good savings on fuel consumption and crew-related costs. In addition, the reduction of crew-related spaces and facilities can allow for more efficient use of space onboard the ship.
A three-year MUNIN (Maritime Unmanned Navigation through Intelligence in Networks) research project predicted savings of more than $7 million per autonomous vessel over a 25-year period in fuel consumption and crew expenditures, which form the most critical expense in operating cost of a ship.
Threats relating to the shipping industry, such as human trafficking, contraband smuggling, hijacking and piracy, will continue to persist or may even exacerbate.
In fact, cyber-security threats towards autonomous ships will now come to the forefront as operational control of the ship now rests with the machine, not a human. What are the cyber-safeguards against cyber-terrorists sabotaging the vessel or re-purposing it as an autonomous weapon for terrorist activities? Can cyber-pirates jam the data link between the ship and the onshore control center, and divert the ship to a different route to steal the cargo onboard?
These are critical concerns that autonomous shipping proponents must address expeditiously in order to maximize its benefits before the next pandemic or climate crisis brings about another wave of global shipping challenges.