Hyundai Demonstrates Autonomous Operations Preparing for Ocean Voyage

tests of autonmous navigation
Test vessel for autonomous sailing technlogy (courtesy of Hyundai Heavy Industries)

Published Jun 16, 2021 2:52 PM by The Maritime Executive

Hyundai Heavy Industries, working in conjunction with KT Corp. (formerly Korea Telecom), demonstrated its fully autonomous navigation system by sailing a pleasure craft through a narrow and winding canal in South Korea. The demonstration combined several technologies under development that the shipbuildier expects to commercialize by as early as next year, first for pleasure crafts and then scale up to cargo ships and other large vessels.

Hyundai through its Avikus business unit that was launched at the end of 2020 focusing on autonomous navigation systems is planning for the world's first transoceanic voyage of a large merchant ship relying on autonomous navigation technologies. Working with a large, local shipping company, they said possibly as early as in the second half of this year they could conduct the first demonstration on larger, commercial vessels.

The demonstration was carried out today using a 12-seat pleasure craft sailing along the six-mile-long Pohang Canal, located approximately 200 miles southeast of Seoul. According to the companies, the canal was selected for the demonstration because of its winding path, a width of just 30 feet, and its reputation for being crowded and busy. The craft was operated over KT’s 5G network from a control center located in the suburbs of Seoul.

The vessel was outfitted with a range of systems being developed by Avikus. According to the companies, by using a combination of LiDAR and special cameras the vessel was able to detect and navigate around obstacles and other unexpected situations. Operators in the control tower were able to monitor real-time sensor data from the vessel, as well as 360-degree video images, due to the low latency of KT’s 5G network.

The demonstration employed two systems under development by HHI and Avikus. The Hyundai Intelligent Navigation Assistant System (HiNAS) automatically recognizes objects surrounding the vessel and route to alert the risk of collision based on augmented reality (AR). The Hyundai Intelligent Berthing Assistant System (HiBAS) provides a full view of the ship when berthing. 

Avikus demonstrated fully autonomous navigation of the ship throughout all stages from departure and sailing to return and docking. Through the use of special cameras and LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), a remote sensing technology that uses the pulse from a laser to collect measurements manages the autonomous operations of the vessel. According to the company, it will be possible to manage adverse weather conditions, strong currents, and the sudden appearance of smaller obstacles, such as fishing boats. Even in low visibility situations or at night, the infrared cameras and sensors provide data on the location and speed of obstacles making it possible for the system to navigate the vessel.

Avikus plans to proceed with its R&D efforts for autonomous navigation technologies and expand its application to all types of ships, including passenger and cargo ships.