Video: NYK Tests Remote-Controlled Tug Off Port of Yokosuka

Remote operations center, left; on board the tug, right (video stills courtesy NYK)

Published May 21, 2020 2:31 PM by The Maritime Executive

Shipowner NYK and three of its subsidiaries have successfully tested the remote navigation of a tugboat in Tokyo Bay, part of a Japanese government research project on advanced maritime technology.

The NYK Group has been working with nautical instrument manufacturers and partners to develop a manned, remotely controlled system that can support the crew. The system is designed to collect, integrate, and analyze information around the ship, prepare an action plan, and after the approval of operators at remote locations or on board, take action in accordance with the plan.

Within Tokyo Bay, an NYK-owned tugboat equipped with a remote control system was navigated by a human operator based at an operation center in Nishinomiya, Hyogo prefecture - about 250 miles away. The tug maneuvered on a route about 6.5 nm long in Tokyo Bay between an area off Honmoku and an area off the port of Yokosuka.

The operator in the remote center used sensors and cameras fitted on board the tugboat to recognize the surroundings, create a route plan and conduct collision avoidance. The operator shared the plans with the tug's captain on board, who then approved them. The outcome of the remote-control operating trial was compared to the planned route and action plan for evaluation. 

In a statement, NYK said that ship-to-shore communication issues were revealed during the experiment. The firm and its technology subsidiaries plan to improve the system and to start remote navigation tests using domestic coastal ships within the year. Future plans include working on the technology for large vessel remote control.

The project is an element of an initiative that Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism has been pursuing since 2018 to establish safety requirements for the realization of autonomous ships. Other participating firms include the National Institute of Maritime, Port and Aviation Technology; Mitsubishi Shipbuilding, SKY Perfect JSAT; JRC; Furuno; and the NYK subsidiary Japan Marine Science Inc.