Zhang Baochen: Promote The Cooperation On The Development, Testing And Application Of MASS Among Asian Countries

Good morning ladies and gentlemen:

The Second Global Sustainable Transport Conference ended in Beijing last week. The inter-agency report issued by the Conference clearly pointed out that "driven by digital technology, the improvement of ship energy efficiency has contributed to significant reductions in marine fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions." When it comes to Maritime Autonomous Surface Ship (MASS), the report indicated that "the digital revolution is fundamentally changing the shipping industry. Artificial intelligence, database-backed remote management and autonomous operations are all becoming a reality."

Then, to what extent has MASS been developed? And what is the position of Asian countries in this coming shipping change? Should we strengthen our cooperation to make a greater contribution to and benefit more from this change? In the following, I would like to share with you some information and views on these issues.

I. The origin of MASS and its progress in Europe

MASS originated from Europe earlier. In 2012, the European Union launched the Maritime Unmanned Navigation through Intelligence in Networks project (MUNIN project). Led by Germany’s MarineSoft, the SINTEF of Norwegian, the Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, the Aptomar AS in Norwegian and other institutions and universities participated in the project. With a total budget of 3.8 million Euros, the project is aimed to build a technical concept for commercial unmanned ships and to effectively evaluate its feasibility concerning technology, economy and laws and regulations.

With the bulk carrier Automat Seaways as the test vessel, the project proposed to establish the advanced sensor modules, autonomous navigation system, autonomous vehicles and monitoring and control system, shore-based control center and other systems. The Automat Seaways, carrying 35,000 tons of pulp, sailed from the Swedish port of Gothenburg to the South African port of Cape Town. In the test, the ship switched to autonomous navigation mode after 40 minutes of sailing, with the pilot leaving the ship (three people reserved in the engine room for machine maintenance) and the one-way voyage lasting for a month. According to the test, the project predicted that the budget of the bulk carrier would decrease significantly by installing several systems such as autonomous navigation system without changing the ship's original structure. It was estimated the return that a ship will make will increase by around US$7 million within the 25-year life cycle.

Since then, different sized companies in Europe, such as Rolls-Royce Group Plc, Wartsila and Kongsberg Maritime have launched a number of MASS projects independently or in collaboration with universities and research institutes.

In 2019, the EU launched the AUTOSHIP project (from 1 June 2019 to 30 November 2022), part of the Horizon 2020, to install and test autonomous navigation equipment on two ships that are in different operating environments. By doing so, the development of a new generation of autonomous navigation ships will be accelerated and the commercial roadmap will be developed for EU to achieve autonomous ship navigation in the next five years.

In 2016, Europe established the One Sea Autonomous Maritime Ecosystem in Finland, which aims to establish the autonomous shipping ecosystem and pave the way for its operating by 2025. Most of the European projects have entered the phase of testing and verifying the ships at sea, and some are planned to be commercialized. But so far, there is no project that has achieved commercial application.

II. MASS development in Asia

Asia is the region that initiated MASS R&D earlier. According to the international exchanges I have participated in and the information I have collected, shipbuilding enterprises, classification societies and maritime research institutes of technology in Japan and South Korea initiated MASS-related researches as early as in 2016 and 2017. After that, media also reported on cases of Japanese and South Korean institutions conducting tests on smart navigation technology. Singapore has also made a unique effort in tracking MASS research. China’s smart ship research started in 2016, but the development of MASS will come later. Today, I would like to highlight the major MASS-related projects initiated by these four countries.

 (i) Japan’s DFFAS project

In June 2020, the Nippon Foundation established the Joint Development Project of Unmanned Ship Demonstration and Testing Technologies, of which the DFFAS project is a part. More than 40 Japanese companies, concerning shipping, shipbuilding and ship equipment manufacturing were brought together to participate in the five consortia, including “Smart Ferry Development", “Unmanned Vessel @Sarugashima, Yokosuka”, “Unmanned Technology Demonstration Test based on Container Ship and Ferry in inland navigation”, “Designing the Future of Full Autonomous Ship” and “Developing the Amphibian Unmanned Technology, and conduct joint development for large ferries, container ships and passenger ships. According to the plan, the Nippon Foundation will provide 3.4 billion yen (approximately 224 million yuan) as financial support in fiscal year 2021 (from April 2021 to March 2022).

As part of the above plan, Japan announced on 2 September that the development of a shore-based support center in Mihama Ward, Chiba City was completed. The centre's integrated information management system was designed by Japan Radio Co., Ltd. (JRC).

It is expected that in February 2022, the 204 TEU domestic container ship SUZAKU, equipped with the DFFAS unmanned vessel operating system, will conduct a 390-kilometer round-trip demonstration cruise between Tokyo Bay and Isewan to prove the system's practicality in congested waters.

(ii) Korea’s KASS project

In order to take the lead in market share and international standards for ships and shipping in the future, the Maritime and Fisheries Ministry and the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy of Korea have decided to invest US$133.3 million in 2020 to implement the Korean Autonomous Surface Ship Project (KASS), which will take five years (2020-2025) to break through the core technology of autonomous ship such as smart navigation, mechanical automation, testing and verification and technology. The KASS project aims to break through the core technologies of autonomous ships, such as intelligent navigation, mechanical automation, testing and verification, specification and standard, so as to achieve remote piloting of offshore and ocean vessels with and without crew on board.

The KASS project has set up three sub-projects on control technology and standardization, including the development of autonomous navigation system, the development of autonomous control system, and offshore test field and verification method, as well as 10 sub-projects on subdivided key technologies, including four core technologies: (1) Intelligent navigation system, including integrated platform digital bridge system, situational awareness system and autonomous navigation system; (2) Mechanical automation system, including mechanical failure prediction and diagnosis system and integrated energy control system; (3) Test field and test demonstration technology, including intelligent system and performance test demonstration and test field construction; (4) Control technology and standard, including reliability evaluation and accident response technology, remote control and safety control technology as well as international standardization technology.

(iii) Singapore's IntelliTug project

The aim of the project is to develop and field test the capability, feasibility and implementation methods of the smart ships, so that the Port of Singapore will be ready for the arrival of MASS. Singapore's PSA Marine Singapore technical team and technology group Wartsila completed the first phase of sea trials of the ‘IntelliTug’ on 13 March 2020. The platform for the project was the 27-metre PSA Marine harbor tugboat PSA Polaris, equipped with Wartsila’s RS24 close-range high-resolution radar and Dynamic Positioning (DP) System. Avoidance algorithms were developed and a large amount of data was collected for the project. Prior to sea trials, system simulation and digital model tests were carried out by using Wartsila’s autonomous ship simulator. A physics-based digital twin model validated the various data collected from the awareness system, as well as the actual performance of the tugboat, which represented the effects of the physical environment faced during the sea trials. The results of the associated experiments verified the platform's capability to avoid various obstacles, including virtual and real moving vessels.

In addition, the MASSPorts network organization, of which Singapore is the main sponsor, was established in August 2020, and representatives from flag states, coastal states and port authorities from China, Japan, Korea, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands and Norway have launched the MASSPorts initiative, which was aimed at achieving consistency in test sailing and operation standards of MASSPorts.

(iv) China

The Key Technologies for Intelligent Navigation and Control of Ships Based on Ship-Shore Collaboration is a national key R&D project launched by China in 2019 and will be completed by the end of this year. Our country has invested 24.6 million yuan and 21 related institutions are involved in the research. I am in charge of the project.

The project is divided into five topics:

Topic one focuses on ship-shore synergic relationship, system construction scheme and governance tactics, and answers what ship-shore coordination is and how it works, how to classify the technical level of intelligent navigation, how to identify and control the risks of intelligent navigation, and how to build MASS which is based on ship-shore coordination.

Topic two studies the intelligent navigation system of seagoing ships, with three main contents: first, long-distance and high-precision perception and cognition of maritime targets; second, remote piloting and automatic berthing and departing of large sea-going ships; third, intelligent electronic chart, intelligent route optimization and autonomous collision avoidance at sea.

Topic three is the study of intelligent navigation system for river boats, which studies how to use multi-sensor to obtain and fuse relevant information for narrow and congested inland waterways, and make intelligent decisions to achieve close-range obstacle avoidance. The relevant results will also be carried out in the Yangtze River main line and the Yangtze River Shen Canal for ship testing at waters and application demonstration.

Topic four is to study shore-based support system and MASS security system, and develop marine communication equipment featuring multi-network and multi-mode, security risk monitoring methods and technologies for network and information, as well as shore-based MASS monitoring platform, etc.

Topic five is the research on the testing system of ship intelligent navigation technology. The testing features of ship’s intelligent navigation equipment, systems and platforms as well as the demand for real ship and virtual tests will be analyzed, and the testing standard system will be established. The testing scheme, standards and safety measures for ship’s remote piloting, autonomous navigation and automatic berthing and departing, as well as the technical standards and operation procedures of the testing field will be formulated. The testing platform with the integration of virtual-physical scenes will be developed, and the coastal test field will be built for tests.

The results of the project will be integrated on three ships. The sea-going ship "Zhi Fei" will be the world’s largest MASS of the container ships, with a length of 117 meters and a width of 17 meters. It can carry 314 standard containers and has three intelligent navigation modes, including remote control, autonomous navigation and automatic berthing and departing. The vessel left the factory for sea trials in September 2021 and is currently undergoing equipment debugging and experimental test of MASS.

In addition, China has also launched small-scale primary MASS experimental test platforms such as the “Zhi Teng” and “M/V Jindouyun 0 Hao” in 2019, which have successfully carried out remote control and autonomous navigation and other sea tests.

I believe that the above-mentioned projects will not only push Asia’s MASS research to a new stage, but also make important contributions to the profound change of world shipping.

III. Promote cooperation in MASS development and testing among Asian countries

Firstly, the three institutes of navigation in China, Japan and Korea are suggested to jointly study the possibility of using the annual Asian Maritime Academic Conference as a platform to conduct exchanges and discussions on technology, information and legislation about issues of common concern, and to promote and serve the development and commercialization of MASS in Asia through the consensus reached.

Secondly, promote the sharing of MASS test field and experimental facilities, and provide support to Asian countries in establishing MASS experimental testing standards and jointly upgrading experimental testing technology.

Thirdly, promote joint development by related institutions in Asian countries to explore the feasibility of MASS demonstration vessels, routes and navigation areas, so as to provide support for the establishment of cooperative mechanism between related Asian countries and competent authorities. On this basis, conditions will be created for the establishment of MASS international test routes and the gradual transition to commercial operation routes in Asia through the unification of related standards of MASS and the service guarantee system.

Fourthly, experts in MASS development, standards and legislation setting from various countries are welcome to attend the first World Navigation Conference on Science and Technology held by the China Institute of Navigation. The Conference will be themed on the development trend of intelligent shipping technology and will be divided into a main forum and thematic forums on ship intelligence, shipping service intelligence, port intelligence, maritime security and supervision intelligence. We hope that this conference will be a grand event to promote the intelligent transformation of global shipping.

Thank you all!