Artificial intelligence powered an autonomous cargo ship for an entire 500 miles

Get ready for automated cargo transports.
Ameya Paleja
The Orca AI system at workOrca Ai/ YouTube

As it completed its nearly 500-mile journey from Tokyo Bay to Ise Bay, Suzaka, a 749 Gross Ton vessel became the world's first commercial cargo ship to be navigated entirely by artificial intelligence (A.I), Electrek reported.

As the world moves towards transportation automation, vessels at sea are not being left behind. Earlier this year, we reported a large ferry in Japan being navigated autonomously, and now a commercial cargo ship has also achieved the same feat. The latter has been possible through maritime navigational software developed by an Israeli startup.

Orca AI

Founded by a pair of naval experts in 2018, Orca AI aims to automate cargo transport by combining onboard safety systems with a host of sensors. Last year, we reported Orca AI's collaboration with the Japanese shipping company NYK Line which boasts a fleet of over 800 vessels. As part of this collaboration, Orca AI installed its Automatic Ship Target Recognition System on Suzaka as part of a research trial last year. The data collected during the ship's previous voyages was used to train the A.I. 

Also participating in the trials was Designing the Future of Full Autonomous Ships (DFFAS), a consortium of some 30 Japanese companies and the Nippon Foundation, working toward automating maritime transport. 

The voyage

For the voyage, Orca's safety navigation system consisting of the 18 onboard cameras was set up on Suzaka to serve as a watchkeeper and provide real-time data detection, tracking, classification, range estimation, and 360-degree views during the day at night. A fleet operations center in Tokyo kept a tab on all the data coming in from the ship. 

Suzaka began its voyage from Tokyo Bay, one of the most congested waters globally, and completed a 491-mile (790 km) journey to Tsumatsusaka in the Ise Bay in 40 hours. During this time, the navigational software onboard the cargo ship made 107 collision avoidance maneuvers without any help from a human and avoided anywhere between 400-500 vessels during this single trip alone, Electrek said in its report. 

"The world’s first commercial autonomous voyage is a significant milestone," said Yarden Gross, Orca AI's co-founder, and CEO, in a press release. "We expect to see big shipping companies implementing advanced AI and computer vision technologies to materialize the autonomous shipping vision."

Last year, we reported an autonomous electric ship completing its first voyage. However, the ship was designed to be autonomous, and the distance traveled was a mere 8.7 miles (14 km). 

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