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Japan to operate self-navigating cargo ships soon

The plan to have so-called “smart ships” moving around the world is being driven by a consortium of Japanese shipping companies who are working with shipbuilders to develop self-piloting cargo ships. At the heart of the ships will be a form of artificial intelligence. Self-learning computer software will function autonomously to pilot what the BBC describe as “the safest, shortest, most fuel-efficient routes.” The idea is to reduce costs and to improve efficiency.

In addition the artificial intelligence will be able to predict malfunctions and to anticipate other problems. Another aim is to reduce safety incidents. This is where the machine learning comes in as the computer processors will collect and analyze data to avoid incidents like marine collisions.

According to the according to the Nikkei Asian Review the companies involved are Mitsui OSK Lines and Nippon Yusen. These shipping conglomerates are developing the technology, which is costing tens of billions of yen, with are established shipbuilders like Japan Marine United.

Then aim is to have the first autonomous ships afloat and operational by 2025. The longer-term aim is to have a fleet of 250 self-navigating ships. It is likely the first of the fleet will have a small crew, although having humans on-ship will be gradually phased out as the operability of the autonomous craft are assessed. From then on a human captain will be based on-shore, monitoring the progress of the boats as they navigate the world’s marine trade routes.

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Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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