The Sunflower Shiretoko ferry recently made a trip from Tomakomai Port in Hokkaido, down along Japan’s eastern coast to Ibaraki’s Oarai Port Ferry Terminal. It’s a journey the passenger/cargo ship makes regularly, but this trip in particular had Japanese netizens buzzing, as no one was steering the ship — the ship was unmanned.
The ship made the journey as part of the Nippon Foundation’s MEGURI 2040 unmanned vessel project, and the Sunflower Shiretoko’s voyage is the first in the world to be undertaken without anyone at the helm. The ship was able to make the autonomous journey as, in addition to the usual radar system, it was equipped with an augmented reality navigation system, and also used visible light cameras and infrared cameras to help detect other ships and avoid collisions.
And while the idea of taking a cruise in a ship with no captain might seem kind of cool to some, the unmanned ships will most likely be used for transporting goods, as marine-based transport accounts for more than 80 percent of the distribution of goods between Hokkaido and Kanto (the main island of Japan).
The ship travelled 750 kilometers down the east coast of Kanto, and the journey took about 18 hours. The MEGURI 2040 administrators hope this journey will prove useful in aiding safe navigation of ships in the future, and reduce the workload of those who work at sea.
But while the Nippon Foundation seemed pleased with the results, some Japanese netizens didn’t seem as enthused.
“I think this is kind of scary, to be honest, although I think it’ll be a while before this gets approved.”
“These kinds of ships seem easy to take over.”
“Even if it’s just going to be used for cargo, the thought of a ship without crew is worrying.”
“What happens if the system malfunctions?”
Others were more accepting of the idea of captain-less ships though, likening the situation to airplanes.
“Planes have been using autopilot for years. I’ve always wondered why ships haven’t done the same.”
“So many people are unaware that airplanes are pretty much unmanned, too. Except for takeoff, landing and any emergencies, the captain and crew just chill in their seats.”
“All vehicles will be automated in the future. Cars, buses, everything. There’ll be less accidents that way.”
The successful voyage of the Sunflower Shiretoko means it’s likely that we’ll be seeing a lot more of these unmanned ships in the future.
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